Omidyar's is one of a number of intriguing nascent journalism ventures featuring star performers. But his strikes me as the most exciting, not only because of its scope and funding but also because it seems focused more on actual reporting as well as analysis and interpretation.
Last year, tech billionaire Omidyar passed on buying The Washington Post, deciding instead to invest heavily — as in $250 million heavily — in launching his own digital news outlet. His marquee get was Glenn Greenwald, the crusading journalist/ lawyer who has led the way in coverage of the Edward Snowden saga. And he hired former Rolling Stone executive editor Eric Bates to help figure out precisely what to do and how to do it.
This week Omidyar posted a video that offered a number of tantalizing hints about what he has in mind.
His baby, First Look Media, will include multiple digital publications. The flagship website, to debut later this year, will run the gamut, covering politics, business, sports and entertainment. In addition, First Look will include a "family" of digital magazines, each covering a specific topic.
REM RIEDER; Gearing up for a journalism juggernaut
While the overall goal is a strong diet of public service journalism — the impetus for Omidyar's plunge — it's his view that you need to offer a wide array of material to broaden the audience for your most important work.
Rem Rieder is a media columnist for USA TODAY.(Photo: USA TODAY)
"For me, journalism is about more than just telling stories," he says in the video. "Journalism is about telling stories that make a difference."
While the digital era has brought with it ! enormous pluses — instant access to an extraordinary amount of valuable information and journalism for starters — the collateral damage for traditional journalism has been formidable. Sharply declining ad revenue has forced newspapers to cut back deeply.
One of the cool things about what Omidyar is saying is that he sounds prepared to play big, to do things the right way.
"We'll bring back to journalism what's been lost — the critical but expensive support that's often neglected in the digital age," he says. "In our model, teams of data analysts, fact checkers, visual designers, editors and technologists will work together with writers, reporters and producers to create powerful stories presented in compelling packages."
As for how to make the thing self-sustaining — the overarching challenge for journalism today — Omidyar says he hasn't nailed that one down, but he'll get back to us.
"We don't have all of the answers," he says. "But we're really good at asking questions, and learning from our mistakes."
There was also some news this week about another promising initiative. Stats expert Nate Silver, who achieved rock star status during the 2012 presidential campaign with his dead-on analysis of polls and brought tons of traffic to nytimes.com, created a stir in July when he left the Times for a much-expanded mission at ESPN and ABC News, both owned by the Walt Disney Co.
Silver posted this week that his much-broadened FiveThirtyEight blog will focus on politics, economics, sports, science and lifestyle. He says he's hired 15 "amazing" journalists and is hiring more. Presumably they'll be amazing as well.
Silver says his site will specialize in "data journalism," which he describes as "the application of statistics and other quantitative methods toward issues in the news." But he and his amazing allies also wi! ll challe! nge what they consider the "irresponsible" use of data in statistics in journalism or anywhere else, for that matter.
While all that sounds pretty heavy, Silver, who started out as a baseball stats guy, warns that he and his colleagues will have plenty of fun exploring everything from "baseball to burritos."
This week also marked the beginning of another journalism adventure as Ezra Klein, the brainy Wonkblog policy blogger, announced that he will be leaving The Washington Post to set up his own operation under the aegis of Vox Media.
Klein, who will be joined at his new outfit by two Post colleagues and Slate's Matt Yglesias, says the goal will be to provide critically important context for news developments. "Our mission is to create a site that's as good at explaining the world as it is at reporting on it," Klein wrote at The Verge, a tech website owned by Vox.
Klein had hoped to do something similar at the Post, with a reported eight-figure budget, but was rebuffed by the paper's leadership.
But while Klein's gambit may have been too rich for the Post's blood, the paper, now owned by another tech billionaire, Jeff Bezos, showed that the new media aren't having all the fun.
Post Executive Editor Martin Baron sent a memo to his staff Wednesday proclaiming that 2014 "will be a year of impressive investment in The Washington Post."
Baron says the paper is launching new blogs, expanding its magazine, redesigning its website and creating a new breaking news desk.
There's been no shortage of discouraging news about journalism in recent years. It's great to see exciting signs of life.