Amid an era in which the mass media is as useless as a flat Coke, a ray of light breaks. As badly as we need a third major political party in America we also need a truly independent, aggressive media. We have neither, and we are worse for it.
Tuesday, Buzzfeed revealed that noted national security reporter Glenn Greenwald was leaving The Guardian for a new reporting venture. Greenwald's status has rocketed ever upward since he released information damaging to the surveillance efforts of the NSA. That information was provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Glenn Greenwald, the lawyer and blogger who brought The Guardian the biggest scoop of the decade, is departing the London-based news organization, for a brand-new, large-scale, broadly focused media outlet, he told BuzzFeed Tuesday.
Greenwald, 46, published revelations from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of American and British domestic spying and about officials' deception about its scope. He said he is departing for a new, "once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity" with major financial backing, the details of which will be public soon.
"My partnership with The Guardian has been extremely fruitful and fulfilling: I have high regard for the editors and journalists with whom I worked and am incredibly proud of what we achieved," Greenwald said in an emailed statement. "The decision to leave was not an easy one, but I was presented with a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity that no journalist could possibly decline."
Wednesday, Jay Rosen's Press Think reported the bankroll behind the venture to be Pierre Omidyar, founder of Ebay. Omidyar was a failed suitor for buying The Washington Post earlier this year. That hand in marriage went to Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
Unlike the Bezos venture, the Omidyar decision is to build a brand new mass media entity from the ground up. The billionaire says he is willing to sink at least the $250M paid by Bezos for the Post to get the effort going. Writes Rosen:
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 work, and supporting that, rather than forcing everyone into the same structure.
No one knows where this will end, and it could end up being another far-left or far-right rag useful for nothing and to no one. Since part of Omidyar's motivation has to do with aggressive reporting and government accountability, one can always hope the First Amendment is about to have a rebirth of freedom. One can always hope such an effort will be as disruptive as Tesla seems poised to create in the auto industry.
It would be a welcomed change.