In November of last year, I said that I was joining First Look Media, Pierre Omidyar’s start-up, as a (paid) advisor. Today, I am announcing that I am no longer involved in First Look.
There is no drama and not much of a story to it. After the first six months of giving shape to the new company, the founders and editors simply didn’t have a lot for me to do. Meanwhile, it was difficult for me to comment or write about First Look because I was officially involved in it. I had joined in confidential discussions and was occasionally paid for my participation in planning. Over the summer that kind of work trailed off because First Look has a much clearer sense of where it is going now.
What did not change is the atmosphere of mutual respect between me and Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald, John Temple, Dan Froomkin, Bill Gannon, Andy Carvin and many others employed by this growing enterprise. I was never an employee, only an advisor but I felt honored to be there as it took shape. I recently concluded that I could do more for First Look by writing about it from the outside, and I met with John Temple — president of the company — to let him know that.
So this parting is entirely amicable. And it was my initiative. Now I am eager to see what First Look becomes as it emerges into fuller form. Special thanks to Pierre Omidyar for letting me hang around and contribute to his idea for a new kind of news organization. I wish him and everyone he brings on board the best of luck as they bring that (still fascinating) idea to life.
UPDATE, Oct. 30, 2014: Yesterday, Matt Taibbi left First Look Media. He was supposed to debut soon his new site about corruption in finance and politics called Racket. Today, The Intercept published The Inside Story of Matt Taibbi’s Departure from First Look Media. I am glad this happened. It shows that editorial independence is not just a concept, but a reality. I agree with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Schahill and John Cook that “the departure of the popular former Rolling Stone writer is a serious setback for First Look in its first year of operations.”
As a former adviser to the company, I want to take slight issue with one part of that post, while welcoming the rest as a much needed act of transparency. This is the part I mean:
A few months later, over the summer, Omidyar told employees that he was “re-tooling” the company’s focus and building a laboratory environment to foster the development of new technologies for delivering and consuming news—the idea, he said at the time, was to orient the company more toward “products,” as opposed to “content.”
I don’t think the relevant distinction was “products” vs. “content,” although it’s possible those terms were used. Rather, the key difference is between starting with the journalism that deserves to be done, then finding the maximum number of users for it, and starting with a community of users that is poorly served, then figuring out what kind of journalism — what sort of news product — might best meet their needs. In both cases, the quality of the editorial work is vital to success. But the content is derived in a different way. For more on this distinction, go here.
I could be wrong, but I think Pierre Omidyar and John Temple want both approaches to characterize First Look.