This post was first published on 10/15/13 11:50 PM. I'll be updating, as I get further information.
So, Warren Buffet buys the Roanoke Times and Jeff Bezos buys the Washington Post. And now enter another billionaire E-Bay founder Pierre Omidyar's new as yet unnamed venture, for which Glenn Greenwald will head up political reporting.
The Washington Post's Paul Farhi (twitter)--who reported on the Bezos sale October 1--writes that a "person familiar with the venture" says it has also sought to hire Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill. (Neither could be reached for comment as of the updated version of the story at 10:21 PM.
Unlike Bezos and Buffet--who seem to me to be angel investors with an emphasis on investment-- Omidyar's history is more philanthropic regarding journalism, especially with initiatives that foster government transparency.
People look to government institutions to work on their behalf and provide oversight on matters that significantly impact their quality of life. Government fulfills this role most effectively when its activities are open and transparent to citizens. With visibility into government actions and spending, people are more likely to participate in the political process and hold government officials accountable for their actions. When citizens engage in the issues that affect them, they can help to ensure that power and public funds are used wisely and are representative of their interests...Omidyar's portfolio includes Global Integrity, Global Voices, Project on Government Oversite (POGO) and the Sunlight Foundation. (Omidyar also funded Newstrust in 2010, back when I worked there. Founder Fabrice Florin left the online social news network in January 2012 for the Wikimedia foundation and announced in June of that year that he had turned the effort over to Poynter.)
We believe greater transparency will also result in more effective investigative journalism, which holds political leaders and systems to a higher standard. More accountability will ensure appropriate influence and integrity in the political process, and bolster the effectiveness of representative government as a force for improving people’s lives.
I had thought that Omidyar's emphasis on philanthropy was significant. Even foundations that expect impact find "impact investing" problematic. Take for instance, Kevin Starr, who directs the Mulago Foundation and the Rainer Arnhold Fellows Program. In Stanford Social Innovation Review, he writes that 95% of the foundation's porfolio is philanthropy because "few solutions that meet the fundamental needs of the poor will get you your money back... and "overcoming market failure requires subsidy."
A businessman in Africa told me that Coca-Cola lost money there for 12 years. In other words, it required over a decade for one of the most competent companies on Earth to break even on the sale of a mildly addictive sugary drink that is absurdly cheap to make. Imagine what it takes when you’re focused on impact. Microcredit, the iconic impact investment of the last decade, required more than $100 million in subsidies before it became a profitable business—and the impact has been disappointing at best.It would seem that the same might be true of journalism projects in the public interest. Maybe it's unrealistic to believe that traditional journalism can yield great returns on investment when the ever-increasing competition comes from those who have no concern for quality or informing the public. Even those sites which fund journalism rely more and more on getting free content. Florin-- who had worked at Apple--may have grown frustrated that Newstrust (unlike Craigslist, twitter, facebook, Wikipedia, et al.) was no killer app. Newstrust was an aggregator that attempted to promote quality, not just popularity. It did no costly investigative reporting.
After Greenwald issued a statement by himself and the Guardian's Jennifer Lindauerat, Ben Smith at Buzzfeed reported at 4:15 PM that George Soros, through his spokesman, had denied being Greenwald's deep pockets. The Buzzfeed story made second place on Memeorandum, right behind the shutdown coverage. The story was number one on the related size mediagazer. The discussion included Greenwald, VentureBeat, Slate, Talking Points Memo, The Atlantic Wire, The Wrap, Boing Boing, USA Today, Erik Wemple, @ggreenwald, CNET, Politico, @blam, @dylanbyers, @niemanlab, The Verge, @rosental, @fishbowlny, @erikwemple, Business Insider, @megan, @hamishmckenzie, @hunterw, @jackofkent, @brianstelter, The New York Observer, @rafat, @arusbridger, Gawker, FishbowlNY, Mediaite, @davewiner, @fishbowlla, @raniakhalek, @michaelroston, New York Times, @pkafka, @jeffjarvis, GigaOM, Hit & Run, BBC, New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, Guardian, @stefanjbecket, Hillicon Valley, The Raw Story, Daily Dot, mUmBRELLA, Online NewsHour, WebProNews and Talking New Media.
Reuter's Mark Hosenball may have been the first one to report the Omidyar connection at 7:06 PM. Listed as a related story by mediagazer, the discussion included Farhi's story, as well as Mediaite, GigaOM and @qhardy.
While Soros has also launched transparency intiatives, I see him as more involved in activism and Omidyar as more involved in journalism. In any case, I look forward to Omidyar's latest project.