Where is First Look heading?

Earlier this month, Pierre Omidyar announced the addition of Bill Gannon to First Look Media’s editorial leadership team. Gannon comes from from Time Inc.’s EntertainmentWeekly.com.

Drawing on his extensive experience in digital media as well as his diverse background in developing new editorial strategies and creating great user experiences, Bill will leverage all of his talents to help us build a next-generation media platform for a broad audience.

Gannon’s job title hasn’t been specified but his is presumably the lead editorial position. “Bill will assemble a specialized team to create a unique, digital approach to breaking news – from politics and business to sports and entertainment.”

Ray Rosen, from NYU, who is acting as an adviser to FLM and who is an opponent of what he calls The View From Nowhere (the pseudo impartiality that prevails in the mainstream media) was asked the following question in an interview with The Atlantic in December:

You’ve written that The View From Nowhere is, in part, a defense mechanism against charges of bias originating in partisan politics. If you won’t be invoking it, what will your defense be when those charges happen?

There are two answers to that. 1) We told you where we’re coming from. 2) High standards of verification. You need both.

Is “we told you where we’re coming from” referring to the organization itself, or the journalists it publishes, or both?

Both. Like I said: NewCo [renamed First Look] will not present itself as the Voice of God. Neither will its contributors. NewCo will not always be in harmony with itself, either. It will be messier than that.

Rosen did a short interview earlier this month with Gannon and given that Gannon is unknown to most people who are interested in FLM, it would have been great if Rosen had asked where Gannon is coming from. He didn’t and based on what Gannon says, the glibbest answer to that question is probably the most accurate: Entertainment Weekly.

The closest answer Gannon provided to the question of where he’s coming from was his explanation on his reasons for joining this venture:

I was initially attracted to the idea because it seemed to be a unique opportunity where my background in creating new editorial strategies and new user experiences could add value. I’ll be focusing on continuous news coverage and aggregation across a wide range of sections: world news, politics, business, entertainment, sports and more.

That’s marketing boilerplate — and a rehash of Omidyar’s press release. It’s the kind of statement I’d expect from someone entering a similar position in any new media outlet from Huffington Post to Buzzfeed. I get no sense of where Gannon is coming from other than that he believes he can devise ways of boosting the site’s popularity — on the unquestioned supposition that popularity is the best measure of success.

After the interview, Rosen adds an observation about the importance of establishing the right balance of “flow” and “stock” — terms defined by Robin Sloan:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

From the little that Gannon reveals, it sounds like he’ll be the kind of editor who focuses more on flow than stock — he’s no Lewis Lapham, that’s for sure.

If that’s the case, I remain skeptical about where FLM is heading since I firmly believe that any new media venture in America, for which investigative journalism is central, will for that very reason have limited popularity.

In attempting to legitimize the pursuit of a mass general interest audience, Gannon says: “The audience becomes aware of our our investigative journalism en route to their other news needs.”

On their way to catch up on Justin Bieber’s latest egg-throwing antics, users (who should not be narrowly defined as readers) will be enticed by the irresistible draw of reporting on fracking, climate change, or net neutrality.

From what I can tell, Huffington Post has already cracked this nut and established it goes the other way around: the serious bleeds to the trivial.

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