Why Pierre Omidyar decided to join forces with Glenn Greenwald for a new venture in news

Yesterday word leaked out that Glenn Greenwald would be leaving the Guardian to help create some new thing backed by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. I just got off the phone with Omidyar. So I can report more details about what the new thing is and how it came to be.

16 Oct 2013 11:48 am 95 Comments

Here’s the story he told me:

In the spring of this year, Pierre Omidyar was one of the people approached by the Washington Post Company about buying the Post. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, wound up with the prize. But as a result of exploring that transaction, Omidyar started thinking seriously about investing in a news property. He began to ask himself what could be done with the same investment if he decided to build something from the ground up.

As he was contemplating the Post purchase, he began to get more alarmed about the pressures coming down on journalists with the various leak investigations in Washington.

Pierre Omidyar

Pierre Omidyar

Then the surveillance stories started appearing and the full scope of the threat to independent journalism became clear. His interest in launching a new kind of news organization — capable of sustaining investigative work and having an effect with it — intensified throughout the summer as news from the Snowden files continued to pour forth.

Attempts to meet with Greenwald to discuss these plans and to find out more about how he operates were unsuccessful until this month. When they finally were able to talk, Omidyar learned that Greenwald, his collaborator Laura Poitras, and The Nation magazine’s Jeremy Scahill had been planning to form their own journalism venture. Their ideas and Omidyar’s ideas tracked so well with each other that on October 5 they decided to “join forces” (his term.) This is the news that leaked yesterday. But there is more.

Omidyar believes that if independent, ferocious, investigative journalism isn’t brought to the attention of general audiences it can never have the effect that actually creates a check on power. Therefore the new entity — they have a name but they’re not releasing it, so I will just call it NewCo — will have to serve the interest of all kinds of news consumers. It cannot be a niche product. It will have to cover sports, business, entertainment, technology: everything that users demand.

At the core of Newco will be a different plan for how to build a large news organization. It resembles what I called in an earlier post “the personal franchise model” in news. You start with individual journalists who have their own reputations, deep subject matter expertise, clear points of view, an independent and outsider spirit, a dedicated online following, and their own way of working. The idea is to attract these people to NewCo, or find young journalists capable of working in this way, and then support them well.

By “support” Omidyar means many things. The first and most important is really good editors. (Omidyar used the phrase “high standards of editing” several times during our talk.) Also included: strong back end technology. Powerful publishing tools. Research assistance. And of course a strong legal team because the kind of journalism NewCo intends to practice is the kind that is capable of challenging some of the most powerful people in the world. Omidyar said NewCo will look for “independent journalists with expertise, and a voice and a following.” He suggested that putting together a team of such people means understanding how each of them does his or her best work, and supporting that, rather than forcing everyone into the same structure.

Part of the reason he thinks he can succeed with a general news product, where there is a lot of competition, is by finding the proper midpoint between voicey blogging and traditional journalism, in which the best of both are combined. The trick will then be to combine that with the things technology companies are good at.

“Companies in Silicon Valley invest a lot in understanding their users and what drives user engagement,” he said, mentioning Netflix as a clear example. NewCo will have to serve users of news in the same personalized way, he said. He didn’t want to reveal too much at this stage, but as the founder of eBay he clearly has ideas about how a next generation news company can be built from the ground up.

NewCo is a new venture— a company not a charity. It is not a project of Omidyar Network. It is separate from his philanthropy, he said. He said he will be putting a good deal of his time, as well as his capital, into it. I asked how large a commitment he was prepared to make in dollars. For starters: the $250 million it would have taken to buy the Washington Post.

I asked him if Greenwald was closer to a lead writer or an executive editor. He said the agreement to join forces was so new that they had not discussed roles and responsibilities. All they know is that they want to work together to create NewCo. Poitras will bring expertise in video and documentary. Scahill is a somewhat similar figure to Greenwald: an independent national security journalist with editorial obsessions in which he has become expert.

Why is Omidyar doing this? He said that his involvement in Civil Beat (a news site he started in Hawaii) stoked his appetite to try something larger in news. “I have always been of the opinion that the right kind of journalism is a critical part of our democracy.” He said he had watched closely over the last 15 years as the business model in journalism collapsed but he had not “found a way to engage directly.” But then when the idea of buying the Washington Post came up he started to think about it more seriously. “It brings together some of my interests in civic engagement and building conversations and of course technology, but in a very creative way.”

A final factor. His “rising concern about press freedoms in the United States and around the world.” The U.S. has the First Amendment. When the freedom to practice hard-hitting investigative journalism comes under threat here, he said, that’s not only a problem for our democracy but for the chances that democracy can work anywhere. NewCo will be designed to withstand that threat.

Now for the disclosure: As Omidyar was making the rounds to talk to people about his plans I was one of those he consulted with. That happened in September. So he knew I was familiar with his thinking and that’s probably why he chose to talk to me. That’s my initial report. I may have more to say as I sift through my notes and think about what he told me.

UPDATE, 1:00 PM Oct 16: An additional detail that I should have mentioned: the business model isn’t fully worked out yet, but this much is known: all proceeds from NewCo will be reinvested in the journalism. Also: there is no print product planned. This is all-digital.

Some additional thoughts after processing the news: I think it’s highly significant that Omidyar is coming to this project after his adventure in creating Civil Beat. (For more on that, see this account at Nieman Lab.) Civil Beat started off as a pay site with a high price tag ($20 per month) and then sought a partnership with Huffington Post Hawaii, so as to combine the benefits of the high traffic, advertising model with the smaller-reach, paid subscriber system. That shows the kind of tinkering necessary to get to sustainability.

But note: What Omidyar learned from trying to create a serious, civic good with online journalism in Hawaii did not discourage him from attempting something larger. On the contrary, his appetite only grew. Thus, the chances that he is heading into this with a naiveté about the economy of digital news production seem to me quite slim. Many of the illusions he started with — we could also call them hunches — have already been modified by experience. And out of that experience has come this much bigger gamble, with a quarter billion dollars behind it. That says a lot.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links

From Omidyar’s own statement at his foundation’s site, My Next Adventure in Journalism.

I explored purchasing The Washington Post over the summer. [Through that] I developed an interest in supporting independent journalists in a way that leverages their work to the greatest extent possible, all in support of the public interest. And, I want to find ways to convert mainstream readers into engaged citizens. I think there’s more that can be done in this space, and I’m eager to explore the possibilities.

Right now, I’m in the very early stages of creating a new mass media organization. I don’t yet know how or when it will be rolled out, or what it will look like.

What I can tell you is that the endeavor will be independent of my other organizations, and that it will cover general interest news, with a core mission around supporting and empowering independent journalists across many sectors and beats. The team will build a media platform that elevates and supports these journalists and allows them to pursue the truth in their fields. This doesn’t just mean investigative reporting, but all news.

This NPR interview with Omidyar puts more detail to that statement. Best if you listen to it.

Adrienne LaFrance worked at Civil Beat, Omidyar’s news site in Hawaii. She writes about the experience:

Earlier this year, Omidyar opened the Civil Beat Law Center, an organization that helps people better access government information. The center is available to anyone, including individuals and reporters from other news organizations, in the hopes that it will lead to more open government.

That decision offers as much of a window as to his venture with Greenwald, Poitras, and Scahill as his three-and-a-half years at the helm of Civil Beat does. Omidyar identified a problem – that agencies routinely reject requests for reports, documents and other information that should be readily available – and created something of his own to find a solution.

At Poynter, John Temple, who was editor of Omidyar’s Civil Beat when it launched, says: “He’s got a journalist’s sensibility. He enjoyed the hunt for a story, and he’s very open to experimenting with how to tell the story and using contemporary approaches.” That said, Omidyar “gives you the space to do your job.”

Reacting to the news of Omidyar’s investment, Dave Winer writes: “Key idea: News orgs not only have expertise at creating news, they are great at consuming it too. Use that to help define the news reading experience of the future.”

The Huffington Post account has a bit more detail and some comments from Omidyar:

“The role of the press, in particular, the role of the press in a democracy is extremely important, extremely critical, and it’s something that I think we often take for granted in the U.S,” Omidyar said. “But we’ve seen attacks on press freedoms and the fundamentals of newsgathering operations when you have these leak investigations that really put a chill on reporting, as well as, surveillance now also a puts a significant chill on reporting.”

“Even in a country that has such strong laws, the First Amendment, we see some weakening, some attacks on press freedoms,” he continued. “So this an opportunity for me to engage in something I care deeply about and do it operationally — not simply as a philanthropist.”

In a sense, then, Omidyar’s new venture is further blowback from the surveillance state’s overreach, which I have been writing about since June. When you think about how much trouble Greenwald and Poitras have caused for the NSA and its sister agencies, and then contemplate an entire news organization founded to make that kind of reporting more likely — with pro-publish lawyers! — it puts new gloss on the notion of unintended consequences.

NPR’s “On the Media” interviewed me about this story. You can listen here.

Jack Shafer of Reuters: “As welcome as Omidyar’s money is, his commitment to the investigative form and an open society is what I’m grateful for.”

A devil’s advocate view of billionaires funding investigative journalism.

More: Billionaires won’t save journalism!

For those who want more, you can find a excellent, linky round-up of all that’s been written about this news here.

Here’s an nine-minute interview with Jeremy Scahill about the new venture with Omidyar. It has a few more details about the “horizontal” operating style the founders envision.

Over at Metafilter, some of the commenters are pretty hostile to the new venture. One says: “I love Greenwald and think he is one of the most important journalists working today, maybe the most important. But the whole project smacks of dot-com/’TED talk’ blinkered arrogance— thinking they can reinvent an industry and instantly do better than people with hundreds of years of experience. Like those people who think Tesla is better qualified to build an electric car than Honda or Toyota or Nissan because the founder is a ‘genius.'”

The Economist on the method of Omidyar’s philanthropy. “With the non-profits it backs, ranging from Kiva, a microfinance website, to the Sunlight Foundation, which promotes open government, Omidyar Network practises ‘venture philanthropy-— developing a non-profit start-up in the same way as a new business venture, except for not expecting it to make money one day.”

To wrap this up, two from the New York Times media columnist, David Carr. His interview with Omidyar here, and his column on a larger trend: “Quality news has become, if not sexy, suddenly attractive to smart digital money.” More:

“Technologists have a view, perhaps inflated, that they can make the world better,” Mr. Omidyar said in an interview over the weekend. “There may be limits to doing it only through technology, or perhaps you get tired of doing it only through technology. So getting into content and broad communication is appealing.”

It would also be a mistake to believe that the only thing digitally enriched players bring is money. The investment of intellectual capital will be just as important. If ever an industry was in need of innovation — of big ideas from uncommon thinkers — it is the news business.

I agree with that.


Ross Worthington says:

I’m hoping this entity will be based outside of the US. As we have seen they aren’t afraid to go after journalists. See the story on James Risen in today’s New York Times.

Marshall Maher says:

I totally agree Ross. Pierre is based in Hawaii but think he’ll incorporate overseas – with nodes around the world in places relatively safe from US authorities. I suspect Greenwald has been a champion of that very point.

Please, please, please Jay, convince Omidyar to consider Marcy Wheeler for inclusion in the new venture–she deserves a decent salary for all her amazing work!

Amen! I was just thinking the same thing! (Click my name for something I wrote about her a few years back.)

I am, honestly, thrilled at the thought of this new news venture! It is one hopeful star in a firmament that today is too dark.

I think Its safe to say – Head Office outside the US, yes. Finland, Holland or Norway ?

See here: http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html

JJ Ahern says:

It should be set up somewhere that won’t bend easily to pressure from the US government. Or UK government. Or… you get the point.

jon asmerom says:

obviously, the practice of real (non-pr) journalism is under real threat in the US. but how do you assert/reclaim 1st amendment rights from overseas? if this is about democracy, shouldn’t we welcome and support the confrontation?

zadorazamora says:

jon, that’s a good point. it deserves some serious discussion.
count me in if you want this dialog, or conversation.
an email reaches me, here–[email protected].
like several folks posting here and near this eBay operative(?) and his apparent good works conceptions, i’m rather cynical, and dubious. anxious, i guess you could say.
an earlier commentor put it kinda bluntly, “when money talks, bullshit walks” and that’s way too often the truth.
doesn’t have to be tho.

Iceland is a nice land! They’d have most of the country supporting them. Parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir is a gem!

Switzerland, even the swiss copyright office don’t bow to the MPAA lobby. Downloading and sharing coopyrighted material is allowed in Switzerland.

There is also Iceland, but until the ImmI.is initiative, lead by Birgitta Jónsdóttir is not in place thre is still danger.

Nick Jones says:

In Switzerland only downloading for personal use is legal. Sharing, i.e. uploading is not.

Facinating and exciting stuff. There is going to be a ton of energy wanting harnessing here. I wish them the good fortune of finding a strong operational team and a powerhouse, pragmatic design head that can give the project a clear identity and brand recognition in a heartbeat. Indeed, I wish them all the luck in the world.

Dear jay,
thanks for the details. One quick question : will it be print of just digital media?
Yevgenia Albats
The New Times
Moscow, Russia

One quick reply, read the article………..Digital only

And if you read the article even closer, you will notice that the note about digital only was added after Yevgenia’s question, and probably in response to it. So please be respectful.

I can’t think of anything that America needs more than an honest, independent journalistic source capable of garnering extensive exposure, to replace the corrupt, propagandistic models into which our current industry leaders have deevolved.

Ethan Macdonald says:

Christmas is two months early this year!! If this venture is HALF as well-planned as it appears to be it could have a stunning impact.

Attraction of general audiences is crucial — it’s fantastic that they have strategies for that.

delia ruhe says:

This sounds really promising — a good combination of outstanding journalistic talent and tech savvy. I like the idea of rescuing journalism from all the mistakes made by newspapers when the Internet challenged them.

With as many ‘aggregator’ sites as there, it would seem that they’re entering a crowded field, but the need is so severe for what they’re offering, the business plan is likely to write itself!

I look forward to seeing what is wrought from this effort. There is great potential for deep innovation and societal transformation in journalism, and this might be the most significant potential disruptor I’ve seen.

JJ Ahern says:

Is it safe to assume that the reason Omidyar consulted with JR is because he’s looking to recruit him to this venture? I’d certainly like to see that.

Jay would make a great Ombudsman for the venture, wouldn’t he?

Bill Hogan says:

Any discussion of a revenue model? Advertising? Subscriptions?

$250 million is a nice start, but nobody is going to just keep pumping money into such an expensive operation forever.

Subscribers will, you can’t tell me there isn’t a big enough audience willing to pay for true independent objective journalism? I’d pay a handsome price for that. I can’t be the only one.

You aren’t, I would pay in a heart beat.

Depends on several factors, including price point, how much on some issues blogging overtakes research, and other things.

Speaking of, a new venture like this? Why not try micropayments? Contra some who oppose them more than general paywalls, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia’s touted them for years.

Hayden Schwarz says:

This is fantastic.
As a foreigner (South African), I can think of some good names I hope to see on this network.
Dan Carlin (@dccommonsense) has a strong following and would love to work with Glenn.
Tom Merritt and/or Molly Wood on technology. (@acedetect & @mollywood)
And just for laughs, the Bugle team for satire (@hellobuglers)

Greensleeves says:

Omidyar is underestimating his Tier 3 adversary. He will be nat sec lettered & pwned very shortly. As a US person, he’s in danger, as Bart Gellman could tell him. 8 billion isn’t enough to protect them. Wish I could be mor optimistic.

Yes, concerned about the reaction from the PTB. They’re in full steamroll mode… nothing will stop them from their endgame.

They’ll continue hiding behind their national-security-secrecy doctrine until everything is a national secret… then what?

Omidyar needs some serious protection – and it’s quite possible he has it. No telling until he goes ALL in.

Have courage, be brave… No fear.

You’ve got my support Omidyar.

I hope this project doesn’t become too ideological. The last thing we need is a “New Liberal News” – we need something different, even though left-leaning news tends to be more informative and well rounded; see for example, Democracy Now or The Real News.

If I were Omidyar I’d buy Rap News and The Real News Network to be contributors. Rap News is the only organization compelling to young people, The Real News needs a broader base (less bland American liberal) but they have the credibility and international connections. Also, look into Vice, see if they’d be willing to collaborate or cross-host content: they do excellent international media.

Obviously you don’t know much about Glenn Greenwald. He has gone after the Obama regime as aggressively, if not mores, than he went after the Bush administration over civil liberties issues. It’s about right and wrong to him, not left and right.

Well said! People sling around words like “liberal” and “conservative” as if they were definitions! Most of my friends and I are neither and both.
Personally, I am against “welfare for the wealthy”, so an Obama liberal, right?
And, I am totally for personal responsibility, so a GOP conservative, right?
And I do believe in following the leadership of Jesus. That makes me a non-Christian bleeding-heart liberal, right?
Of course, I am an attorney, so evil, right? Got me, there!

It is all of our responsibility to the world to spread the sphere of influence for a news outlet with such ideals. Lets hope those ideals don’t get derailed.

” Omidyar believes that if independent, ferocious, investigative journalism isn’t brought to the attention of general audiences it can never have the effect that actually creates a check on power. Therefore the new entity[…] cannot be a niche product. It will have to cover sports, business, entertainment, technology: everything that users demand. ”

Why? This isn’t going to be a newspaper omnibus that lands on your doorstep with a thud and has to appeal to every possible reader. It’ll be of the web; each piece will live and die on its own merits. Having sports coverage may do something to bring NewCo’s investigative journalism to the attention of sports readers, but not that much, and not enough, I suspect, to justify having the sports.

A more logical reason for having that general-interest stuff would be to cross-subsidize the investigative work – a worthy and time-honored model. But if that’s the case, NewCo is getting into a very crowded space where HuffPo, Buzzfeed and others are already well entrenched.

Eh I disagree. Some of the recent work on sports(college basketball, NFL head injuries, stadium scams, pedophile scandals, etc) shows that it encapsulates many of the same issues that prevail in more central areas of society–primarily corruption and inequality. A good journalist covering sports will have a great deal of deeply relevant content to provide on a regular basis to an audience(sports fans) that really needs it. The same goes for tech, as Wired or Ars have proved. It’s not the subject matter, it’s the style of journalism practiced that cheapens the typical news concerning these subjects.

Pay a visit to the UK daily mail website. Its 90% deceit/lies/adverts pretending to be articles, and its propaganda is very popular .

Ask yourselves why it is popular and pay particular attention to the level of language being used.

You as Murdoch has taught us all have to speak their language .

fosforos says:

Nobody, absolutely nobody, would be better to direct sports coverage than Dave Zirin. read him in the NATION or his END OF SPORTS blog!

Well, he didn’t elaborate but my take on that is that for a publication in the 4th domain to be influential it has to be regularly accessed, and as such isn’t a place you go to only for alternative news, such as bad practices in the sports (or any other) industry, but also for your sports news, stats, results etc. Similarly, it will cover political elections like any other mainstream publication. This is so you go to their pages and there is advertising revenue but also because that way you have a platform in terms of numbers, i.e. not 5,000 readers but 5 million plus.

Then, if along with responsible, well presented basic info on a wide variety of themes, you have the hard-hitting stuff which keeps government well monitored and analysed (not to mention the corporatocracy etc.), then you really might have something that becomes a foundation on which could be build a general movement for meaningful change.

This could take things back to the basic principles of the anti-overcentralisation US constitution in a way that both Lefties and Righties are yearning for but which is simply not happening.

I think this is potentially an exciting development, albeit am not sure about the Greenwald/Snowden business and still suspect the latter is more (or much less) than he appears somehow. Same with Wikileaks. Not sure that they are not controlled or manipulators in some way, but that’s another story.

Hopefully this will be an international venture. The UK needs a news outlet free from government oversight, court gagging orders, UK libel laws, D notices etc

Well, it’s a bit amusing that Omidyar’s post about his venture doesn’t allow comments. Hopefully that’s not a hint of things to come.

I look forward to seeing what they put together. And as someone who spends much time writing about TV and the media, a site that offers up an alternative, non-celebrity driven approach to entertainment news would be welcomed.

This sounds awesome. Greenwald, Scahill, Poitras working together in one venue — amazing stuff. But I’d like to know how this is going to be funded in the long-run to ensure independence.

Subscriber says:

if you offer a subscription for tablets and iPads I willgladly subscribe as I’m sure many others will.

Gary Stewart says:

Putin has got to be thrilled.

” I recently reached out to Glenn Greenwald to find out what journalists like him need to do their jobs well. ”

1. Provide independent journalists with the other kind of Frontline. http://mojo.ly/1gLajQN

helen rigos says:

Oh, Gosh! Why don´t you keep grounded in Brazil? Think about it. Please, don´t take Greenwald out from us!! And also, here you feel much safer. USA will catch you soon, and give you a lot of concern… Seriously speaking, my people really need to be awakened up to the reality and this kind of excellent stuff like you form is exactly what we must have. I wish all of you great luck and my all best desires. Go ahead but don´t forget us!Excelence is what i´m sure we´ll get from your work.

David Bryson,MD (Yale '63) says:

I was the Glenn Greenwald during the Orwellian Eighties and a 160 page “Presidential Malpractice” is archived with Prof Barbara Fowles (Media Studies)at Long Island University -ferocious forensic analysis of Federal Fuck-ups with a lot of word play
Iran/Contra as Reagan’s Waterlulu/Armspit/Ruse Goldberg
Nancy’s Astrology as Just Say Nostradamus
inquires welcome
[email protected]

Maybe Ralph Nader was right afterall. “Only the super-rich can save us” now.

Peter S. López says:

Great News! U.S. Fascism is trying to wipe out true freedom of the Press! We need to create relevant alternative media.

Tweet ~

Why Pierre Omidyar decided to join forces with @ggreenwald for a new venture in news » Pressthink @jayrosen_nyu

This is so exciting and urgently needed to bolster freedom and truth all over the world. Where do I sign up?

So its going to be a cross between Russia today, press TV and an early aljazeera and Euronews .. With bosoms

Exciting! And it is good timing and needed!

I have always been of two minds about Greenwald; one) I admire him and his journalism; two) I am not sure about his ‘fairness’ to the subject. What I mean by that is, would he publish anything that wasn’t on message, and which didn’t suit his agenda.

At the moment I exist in that no-man’s land called university, and when I get out of here

I want to be a writer. Journalism is something that appeals to me, and Greenwald is a model for me about how journalism should be like. I would want a more evidence based agenda-driven journalism; he wants a more emotional and passion driven journalism, it seems.

On some days I loathe the press in this country (the UK), and on others I love it. I much admire people like Greenwald, the late Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan, etc. I loathe the fact that much of the press in the UK is driven by proprietors’ political agendas.

Take the Daily Telegraph, a nominally serious right-wing paper as a counter-weight to The Guardian. It stole data to expose the MP expenses scandal a few years back. For ideological reasons they’ve been taking pot-shots at The Guardian for publishing this leaked data from Snowden.

It seems that one of the serious right-wing newspapers is incapable of lifting itself above partisanship. The same could be said for The Times of London, but the Times would never support the Guardian for obvious reasons. It’s in the Murdoch sphere, and the Guardian savaged the Murdoch sphere with the phone hacking scandal reveals.

I am of two minds about Greenwald, like I said, but also about the press in the UK. I am glad Greenwald joined the Guardian, because I think that The Guardian deserves to be lifted out of the duck pond of the British Press. They’ve apparently surpassed its arch rival The Daily Mail as concerns web hits now.

It will be interesting to see if the Guardian is damaged by him leaving. I hope not.

MaryMagdalene says:

Pierre, you could impress and help the tech community by making a donation from your new venture to funding the proposed audit of TrueCrypt code, and publish the result.

Bruno Zurich says:

I will support any media organization where you have journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.
I can’t wait to make my subscription.
Bruno Zurich

Any indication if this is going to be

a. US based or decentralized?
b. US focused or with a global appeal?

Thank you!

One word is missing here: video. It is already to most used language in the world. The capabilities of investigative video journalism are immense, and a platform like “NewCo” would be invaluable in presenting the work, not only of “video professionals,” but all those “amateurs” currently cruising and collating reality with their cellphones and video cameras, especially if the videographers are supported by the promised, world-class editors. The presence of Laura Poitras, one of the world’s great video journalists, on the “NewCo” team implies what should be made explicit: that video will be a major component of this project.

I don’t know how representative I am (not very, I suspect), but the amount of video I consume has declined dramatically in recent years. I just don’t find it an efficient medium for information exchange – or rather, not *as* efficient as reading and writing. (I may be wrong — this is just a hunch, not a deeply held belief — and may be biased by the lack of good tools for skipping forward quickly through online video — perhaps an update to the browser’s video player plugin would change my mind).

Ormond Otvos says:

Video without captions and/or transcripts is a waste of time. There are a lot of people who agree with this.

And forget ads before the videos.

I am going to step beyond my pay-grade and give some harsh criticism; It is intended to be constructive, so apologies in advance for any slight that I may cause.

I had high hopes for the internet, and what it might mean for the advancement of human thought. I want it to be a tool that enhances collaboration; deepens debate; broadens participation; makes democracies more effective; and the populace better informed and more capable of critical thought.

The surveillance story, so far, has been a perfect illustration of how far we have yet to go.

This is a story with profound and wide ranging implications; requiring deep engagement, together with careful and nuanced reasoning. It impacts all of us and engages a great number of us; yet the arguments and the clamour and the “debate” (such as it is) have so far been far shallower than they could have been; far narrower than they should have been; and far more emotional and vitriolic than the dignity of the debate deserves.

The journalism; the story itself; that is just the seed for the debate. The forums and the blogs and the responses to the story are where the debate actually occurs, or rather, could actually occur. What happens right now is mostly unspeakable rubbish. (I am responsible for more than my fair share of this dross, so am being knowingly hypocritical here).

It would be nice if we had a way of structuring responses to a story in a formal way – perhaps by annotating responses according to how they contribute to the debate; do they extend the debate? Perhaps they are a rebuttal of a particular point? Perhaps they provide a counterexample? In this way, a tree of responses and counter-responses could flower from roots embedded in the seed-story provided by the journalist; the structured and well-formed nature of the shoots and leaves enabling statistics and summaries and various other juicy stuff-of-life bits and pieces to travel back down the tree to feed the story itself.

In this way, we move beyond journalism as the telling of stories, and move closer towards the gardening of debate; a form of horticulture in which ideas and memes and engagement and debate are the fruit and the produce of our labour.

I share your hopes for the internet, but I think we might have to wait for the next m/billionaire philanthropist to embark on establishing a new, replacement, internet that serves loftier goals and places concern for user security at its heart.
As for the concept of gardening debate, that is an awesome idea, I hope it will flourish.
To respond to your other comment on video, YouTube is running a trial of a new, lightweight, presentation format of video named “feather” which loads fast, and lets you skip back and forth with ease.

Very exciting news….eagerly awaiting the launch.

Seems strange that someone who got rich partnering with Meg Whitman is going to hire Greenwald who has all the leaked documents from the NSA that was caused by Meg Whitman background checks. And Booz Allen who brokered the deal with HP for the Navy IT system. And Meg Whitman who also did the background checks for the NAVY shooter who was a contractor for her at HP at the Navy Yard.

Can there really be a separation of these people that allows the information to come out? And even Pierre Omidyar work on expanding the NSA coverage in Africa with his cellphone deals and apps. Vodaphone is the biggest pusher there of expanding coverage. And they are in with McKinsey and CO. One of the biggest suppliers of personnel for the Special Source Operations of the NSA.

How will this be independant and separated in order to support the information people showed know that our governments want to hide?

Excellent, important, questions!

Investigative journalism, if done properly, is the kind of work that puts reporters at risk of blackmail, prison, or death. Otherwise, the media isn’t living up to the expectations of what the Fourth Estate needs to be.

Also, Dan Carlin would be a great fit! His Common Sense and Hardcore History podcasts are quite popular, and for good reason.


Pierre Omidyar funded journalist in Kenya to fight corruption. What was it? A satire puppet show. So will Greenwald become a puppet?


rollotomasi says:

Jay Rosen:

“(Omidyar used the phrase “high standards of editing” several times during our talk.)”

It’s good to see that the Omidyar/Greenwald recognize that having appropriate and effective checks and balances is just as crucial to journalism as it is to surveillance. It is obviously still very early in the game and much more to be revealed as to the backers’ approach, but it seems to me that they already are displaying much greater care and thoughtfulness in developing their venture than did the “collect it all” cowboys at the NSA. Greenwald has evidenced great discretion in his handling of the Snowden information.

In fact, I don’t see much daylight between the NSA’s reckless mindset, and those who have pressed Greenwald to dump all the Snowden information. Greenwald is a sponge (intellectually), and I bet he learned a lot about the journalistic practice from his time at The Guardian – what he liked and disliked. I’m not buying in to the simplistic Greenwald-left-because-they wouldn’t-let-him-do-his-thing school; I’m sure there was frustration, but I would guess that it was directed more at the establishment journalism system as a whole than The Guardian in particular.

{Thanks for the mulligan, Prof. Rosen.}

I hope they hire Greg Palast!

LizinOregon says:

I would not pay for it if it looks like HuffPost with the inane “entertainment” news always bouncing along the side bar. Please separate the subject areas so those interested in serious news don’t have to be bombarded with sports and starlets.

from a pessimistic point of view, this whole story reminds me of per wahlöö’s “murder on the thirty-first floor”
hope, it won’t have the same ending, though.

proximity1 says:

Help, please.

In any such innovative venture, the leading lights in it should try to avoid adopting various elements of conventional thinking about how to recognise potential colleagues– or, that is, the same old and tired habits still commonly in use.


“You start with individual journalists who have their own reputations,”

How are these key concepts defined?, I wonder.

Let me be blunt: for lack of an employer to pay me for it, I’ve devoted the last ten years to my own diversified studies and often written almost daily about what I’ve learned. In many cases, that has been an exercise in relating themes and areas of enquiry which are typically not considered as parts of a related whole– economics and evolutionary biology, for example. Literary history and the practice of political propaganda, for another. As a related aspect, financial and political networks and technological trends influencing the former.

But in none of these do I or can I claim to hold a “deep subject matter expertise” …. and I argue that this is not such a bad thing after all.

If I had focused on developing that in any one of the topic areas (which have no clearly defined “borders” for me), I’d never have come to see important relationships in them. I think it’s fine for some people to desire and to develop deep subject matter expertise but it’s a mistake to make that a guiding principle in the selection of potential collborators. Some people are interested in related fields which defy and preclude any possible deep subject matter expertise in all of them.

I note, too, that, fortunately, as I see it, Mr. Omidyar does not possess a deep subject matter expertise in journalism or the daily operation of managing a major news operation. It’s just because he doesn’t possess this that he was able to think imaginatively about the issues and problems and attempt to design such a novel project.

I do possess many “clear points of view” and have “an independent and outsider spirit” par excellence.

I certainly don’t know whether or not I have a “dedicated online following”. Perhaps not. I rather doubt it.

But, since I’ve done all my study and writing independantly, I’ve certainly had to develop my “own way of working.”


“The idea is to attract these people to NewCo, or find young journalists capable of working in this way, and then support them well.”

Again, I have nothing against young people or their being promoted and sought out for ventures such as the one described. But why should youth, per se enjoy such a premium over others who aren’t considered youthful by conventional thinking?

I’ll be blunt again : The project described here interests me very much and I very much need the work now. But I do not “fit” any typical accepted profile and, though I have read much, thought much and found much to say, I have no network of influential contacts to get me inside to pitch ideas and describe how I could contribute to such a venture.

If, for example, I were to present myself at the reception desk at the offices of The Guardian and ask to speak with a staff reporter or an editor, the bright young person at the desk should reply (and did reply) : “Without an appointment, no one will even come downstairs.”

So, instead, I’m writing this from a social welfare benefits office where people come when they have neither employment nor a fixed address. Behind me, the public address speaker drones, “Ticket holder number 724, please go to desk 3.”

How do I get out of this? And how do I get into that?

“Many ideas, no entries to the right connections”

Carol Fowler says:

Journalism needs a fresh look from those who have succeeded on their own terms in the digital space. On behalf of those who are worried about the financial model of journalism, I wish him all the best.

And why not a partnership with Al Jazeera?????

I’ve been working a project that sounds like a model.

I combine independent subject matter expertise, whistleblowing, advocacy and public interest journalism, angry hippie blogger, photog, and civil engagement.

Attend public events, present expert arguments, talk to sources, cultivate leaks, photograph the players, and then write an angry screed about what went down and invite readers to get active.

Today’s story isa leaked audio tape:


Very low maintnenance, willing to trade – Hire me! I’m your environmenval guy.

I will help with all things Renewable Energy… For FREE

creatrix says:

Just a suggestion –

MATT TAIBBI should certainly be invited to participate. He has done excellent, hard hitting work at times when no one else would.

Jill Rowan says:

I was wondering if, like Civil Beat, there will be a paywall or if that was against Glen’s morals and how they can come to terms with that? In other words, will it be free!?

Jill Rowan says:

I hope ‘Newco’ is a ‘working title’!

TeamAmerica says:

The fact he picked the far-left Nation mag and the equally lefty Guardian for his collaborators implies it’ll just be another lefty site. Ironically he chooses people who helped elect America’s authoritarian president, whose administration spied on journalists and treats the US constitution as a defunct document.

He didn’t “pick” the Nation magazine or “pick” the Guardian for his collaborators. If that were the case, this post would have said that Omidyar is joining forces with the Nation magazine and the Guardian newspaper. He isn’t. So try again. Because this comment suggests you have a reading disability.

alijavadi says:


This development is very welcome and it will have an instant supportive network of likeminded, whistleblowers and cutting edge investigative journalists that adher to the same principles. It could mean a revolution in sight, not just the written word. A group of well trained camaera men, who would send live, uncensored and uneditied news picture directly to online viewers, an ‘as it comes’ service that would leave the cameraman in charge of choosing the most appropriate scene, would cut through the global bias in news reporting l;ike a knife through butter.

I hope that Mr. Omidyar and GG, et all will consider such a service. As far as I know there is not one single major news outlet in the world that directly sends uncensored footage.
Just sayin. Good luck to the team and the endeavour.

Maria Świetlik says:

I hope they will assure highest privacy for journalists and their informers. This is crucial issue here and as far as I know the only way is to use safe technology as free software and to locate servers outside USA. And of course keeping Apple, Google, FB & other Silicon Valley’s co out of this business. Well said by Richard Stallman here: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/10/a-necessary-evil-what-it-takes-for-democracy-to-survive-surveillance/

It’s a stupid idea and it won’t work. Greenwald only got the Snowden story because it was given to him. He didn’t discover shit. Omidyar is wrong if he thinks having stuff dropped onto your lap is investigative journalism. They’re about to create a left-leaning online longformer that won’t move the needle an inch. No one wants what they’re about to create.

You obviously haven’t read much of Greenwald’s work. It fell into his lap because he was one of the very few journos covering the issues with tenacity. He’s a bulldog…

Like you pretend to be…


I find this very exciting, primarily because it promises to bring new thinking into a very old industry. I strayed into journalism; I was an economist once, and was taken into government to design reforms; when I was no longer necessary, I was eased out, and since I could find nothing better, I became a newspaper columnist. From my experience I would say that the first thing to think about is the market. There is a market for news; millions are addicted to it. But there is a more stable market for good analysis and writing. They are inseparably combined at present in print media, but don’t have to be on Internet. Print media markets are segregated by country, but the market for good writing does not have to be. I often find news stories from Japan or Argentina or Spain more fascinating than those from my country. I only wish the whole world wrote English.

Alfie John says:

“You start with individual journalists who have their own reputations, deep subject matter expertise, clear points of view, an independent and outsider spirit, a dedicated online following, and their own way of working. The idea is to attract these people to NewCo, or find young journalists capable of working in this way, and then support them well.”

I hope they’ll be including Nate Silver in their lineup.

Yes, Nate brings an interesting mix to the table, including politics, sports, even gambling. All from a ruthlessly statistical perspective, combined with a good analytical mind. He definitely fits the model.

Jay Rosen does Pierre Omidyar’s PR. Talk about ‘access journalism.’ With friends like these, who needs spokesmen.

Curious: how would you do the story in a non-PR way?

I’m assuming you’re being smug; how surprising. Do you teach your students that single sourced stories with that source being someone with whom you’ve had business dealings are above board?

What other source is there for what Omidyar intends to do? As for skeptical takes on the news that is in my post, browse the After Matter section. You will find them.


Based in Geneva, switzerland we will be more than very happy to help Newco overhere…

We have a good expertise with United Nations organisation and they offices, local administration, policy and sustainable economy.

We would be ready to jump to the project…

Contact us.



Stan Franzeen says:

I may have missed it in either the original post or the comment threads, but is GlobalPost a resource or potential partner in this venture?

I really do wish all well on this project. That said, perhaps this comes under the saying: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Back in the early 1980s we tried to break through the gatekeeper role of the big dailies with weekly business journals. Busted our asses for almost five years to establish 33 papers in 54 months. Then almost immediately the organization was sold out to Wall Street interests and the cry became “sell more ads and less controversy.” Publishers with journalist backgrounds were replaced by ad managers, and the company became owned by the same group that owned major dailies. Bad for the public, bad for the journalists and the noose around real news continues to grow tighter. Sigh.

I’m not sure if this adds to the debate, but this interview has some revealing moments, in the “Murdochland” WSJ interpretation of the media landscape. Also, the reiteration of the Rupertian mantra against state owned broadcasters seems less conviction than standard response.