Following an announcement that Pierre Omidyar has doled out $50 million which represents 20 percent of his initial commitment to his new media venture First Look Media, Jay Rosen, an adviser to the project, says the details include the answer to a question he has frequently been asked: is this going to be a business or a non-profit? The answer is both. The news and editorial operation will be a non-profit and helping sustain this will be a new for-profit media technology company.
At the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer is guzzling the Kool-Aid:
First Look is something curious and iridescent — a technology for-profit making products for a news non-profit, selling those products elsewhere, and giving the proceeds back to the non-profit. First Look is two parts, closely joined, feeding and making a home for the other.
One of the first challenges for any new technology company is to convince investors that whatever kind of genius the company’s founders might possess, they also have some idea about how they can make their innovations profitable.
First Look has an advantage over other start-ups in this respect because its lead investor stepped forward before anyone had come up with either an innovative technology or a business plan. The premise seems to be that the Greenwald/Snowden brand has already acquired such immense value, that the new product can be constructed around the brand (and of course thousands of so-far unreleased documents from the NSA).
In Omidyar’s announcement there is one hint of realism:
The journalism operation, which will be incorporated as a 501(c)(3), will enjoy editorial independence, and any profits eventually earned by the technology company are committed to support First Look’s mission of independent journalism.
The key word there is eventually.
Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and Jay Rosen, probably aren’t too worried about how long eventually takes, because Omidyar’s investment of $250 million will provide financial security for several years. Moreover, since they are all on the non-profit news side, they can leave it to Omidyar to figure out if or how he’s going to make the technology side profitable.
My prediction is that by the time First Look has either succeeded or failed in demonstrating that it represents a new way of making the news business sustainable, Greenwald will have departed from journalism.
In reference to his role in bringing the Snowden revelations to the world, Greenwald has said: “when you go into journalism, this is exactly the sort of thing that you hope one day you’re going to be able to do.”
I suppose there will come some point in time when I feel like most or all of the documents that are in my possession that ought to be published have been published, and that most of the reporting that I think ought to be done has been done. That won’t necessarily end it, because I’m sure the fallout of that reporting will continue, the public debates over things, the consequences from these revelations will endure. And I will likely play some role in debating those things and talking about them and writing about them, but in terms of the very surreal craziness that has become my life, I’m looking forward to that subsiding.
Having repeatedly said that he has so far published reports on less than half the documents that need reporting, it sounds like Greenwald sees plenty of life left in this story, but it’s an open question whether anything comes after Snowden (apart from the book and the film).
Whether future whistleblowers choose to turn to Greenwald and First Look, may hinge on whether this venture ends up being perceived as a new way of doing journalism or an old way of making money: find a cheap or free raw product and then exploit ones role as an exclusive distributor who can fix prices and control the flow of goods to market.