Update on Greenwald and Omidyar Joint Venture

Photo of Pierre Omidyar in May of this year presenting an award to  "Global Integrity, for the leading role they've played in catalyzing and convening the government transparency and accountability community." I originally published this post on October 16, 2013 at 2:30 PM writing about my reaction after reading  Rosen and Beaujon.  I updated it at 6:10 PM to add this photo and the section marked update which reflects on past articles by Beaujon and John Letman. H/T to   Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray  and Samir Mezrahi for including Letman's interview in their Omidyar story posted last night at  7:19pm "This Billionaire Really Likes Glenn Greenwald.  BTW, apparently the post was already in the works before Reuter's Mark Hosenball reported the Omidyar connection at 7:06 PM, because they link to him as a confirmation in a 7:29 PM update. I updated it again at 7:41 PM to add my rundown of the coverage via Memeorandum and mediagazer.


Last night, I speculated about the joint venture last night with Glenn Greenwald , but had no access to Omidyar.  Today he's released a statement, but his only interview was and will be with Jay Rosen, according to Andrew Beaujon, news editor at Poynter Institute.

So, what can Rosen tell us after his interview with Omidyar?  According to his blog post at 11:48 AM, updated at 1:00 PM, it turns out that  Omidyar was a contender for the purchase of the Washington Post. I was right that Omidyar's experience with Honolulu Civil Beat, according to Rosen
stoked his appetite to do something larger in news.
After his experience with The Washington Post,
Omidyar started thinking seriously about investing in a news property. He began to ask himself what could be done with the same investment if you decided to build something from the ground up.

I had thought that Omidyar's emphasis on philanthropy was significant and that this project, like those detailed in yesterday's post would be a project of the Omidyar Network. If he makes this a successful business venture, I hope it will have some applicability for legacy media.

I DID noticed that Omidyar posts often as staff at Civil Beat.  If I had known about the Washington Post  connection or dug deeper into Civil Beat, I might have speculated otherwise.In checking Civil Beat's FAQs, it's a for-profit run by Peer News LLC  and charges $239.99 a year for an online subscription. Peer News is registered in California as a foreign corporation (which can just mean out-of-state.)  There's a summary by Mark Coddington updated on October 2 at Nieman's encyclopedia of news sources. 

Omidyar's new project with Greenwald, whose name has not been released, but Rosen refers to as "NewCo, will be   
 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.
Rosen had access because 
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. 

I WAS  right, though, about Omidyar's underlying motivations, if not his ambition to come up with a commercial model:
“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 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 designed to withstand that threat.
This is borne out  by Beaujon.  Since he  had no direct access to Omidyar, he decided to add value to the story by interviewing John Temple, former editor of Civil Beat (who edited the Rocky Mountain News,was a managing editor at The Washington Post after he left Civil Beat and now teaches at Stanford).  Temple told Beaujon about his experience with Civil Beat.  Omidyar was
in the newsroom almost every day...[and was] very involved with writing the code for the site... [He has] 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...[Omidyar] gives you the space to do your job....it is much more in his character to build and innovate than it is to transform...He could have bought the paper in Honolulu, for example.
 It also turns out, according to Rosen, that
Greenwald, his collaborator Laura Poitras, and The Nation’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.) 

Omidyar's mention of Poitras, Scahill and Greenwald and their plans to form their own venture  sheds light on AP ReporterBeaujon's September 28 scoop that Jeremy Scahill comments to the audience members at the Rio debut of Dirty Wars.  He announced that he and Greenwald were
working on a project right now that has at its center how the National Security Agency plays a significant, central role in the U.S. assassination program...There are so many stories that are yet to be published that we hope will produce "actionable intelligence," or information that ordinary citizens across the world can use to try to fight for change, to try to confront those in power.

 Also interesting is this nugget from Civil Beat interview with Omidyar on the occasion of  the launch of the joint venture with HuffPo.  John Letman wrote on September 17
I didn’t want to talk about twerking teens or top ten lists of weird fruit. I was interested in what...HuffPost Hawaii might do to shine a light on Hawaii’s often overlooked but massive role as a surveillance and intelligence outpost and headquarters for the U.S. Pacific Command...
Letman links to Nick Grube's "Bow Ties, Spies and Money: A Look Inside Hawaii's Intel Community" from July and writes in details about Omidyar's views on what the media needs to do:
It’s been a little disconcerting— whenever the drum beats of war are beating, it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It creates a sort of war frenzy...I think it’s a biological thing ... something about the Third Metric can help us balance that a little bit. The male drive is once the drums start beating ‘we want to get out there, we want to be violent’. As a society, of course that's really dangerous. I think the media — parts of the media — beat the drums and accentuate that....Is...[military action] really the only the answer and why is that the first thing we think of when the think of bad people in the world doing bad things?” He said it shouldn't be the “only tool in the toolbox.“I would add that the crux of the debate that needs to be had is how we balance our need for security with the importance of our liberty and civil liberties...

The distractions unfortunately, sort of official government propaganda, really is about distracting from that core issue because people in power with the best of intentions accumulate as much power as they can in order to keep us safe. They give their lives for that and they truly have the best intentions, I really believe, but they lose perspective on not what makes us safe, but what makes us human...

The government assault on whistleblowers in general, I think really impacts the intent on the First Amendment. Without whistleblowers speaking to the press — or any citizen — you don't have to be a journalist, the First Amendment is there to protect any citizen, but without people on the inside able to speak their conscience and then have others amplify that voice, there’s no way for us to check the power of these secret programs. So I think whistleblower protection needs to be expanded, personally.

I also believe that the communication between journalists and their sources also needs to be privileged in some sense and should not be forcibly disclosable and so I think shield laws are also very important.
Letman also included Omydar's observations on suveillance:
Can we be truly free if we are surveilled all the time, if we have no privacy? I think that’s a really important debate to have.
 Letman also observed that 
Omidyar, who in recent months has gone from being an [occasional tweeter](https://twitter.com/pierre to an almost daily Twitter critic of the NSA and other government surveillance. 
Interestingly, Memorandum "leads" with Omidyar's post (but only as one of "more items" below, of course the shutdown media carnival, but also something on drunken college women.)  For the discussion, it links to Rosen  and to Beaujon, but also Hosenball's scoop for Reuters, Andrew's piece at Buzzfeed and Farhi's piece at the Washington Post (which I wrote about yesterday and all of which predated Omidyar).  Other links include   The Huffington Post, NPR, Guardian, Poynter, Scripting News, Mashable, Politico, and Business Insider. As usual for additional coverage, it sends you to  mediagazer.

 Mediagazer, on the other hand lists Jay Rosen's interview as primary with the discussion including Omidyar's post, plus The Huffington Post, Forbes, Guardian, Poynter, CNET, GlobalPost, Subtraction.com, @emtitus, @allanbrauer, @johngapper, @mlcalderone, @jason_pontin, @ariannahuff, @erikwemple, @biellacoleman, @nickkristof, @thestalwart, Poynter, @poynter, @carlzimmer, @jayrosen_nyu, @mleewelch, @jayrosen_nyu, @howardweaver, @clarajeffery, @barryeisler, @jcstearns, @timoreilly, @rafat, @jgreendc, @omidyarnetwork, @michaelroston, @pierre, FishbowlNY, The Drum, Business Insider, Gawker, Pressing Issues, Committee to Protect …, Hit & Run, BBC, The Wrap, WebProNews, The Verge, The Raw Story, New York Magazine, BuzzFeed, Online NewsHour, Talking New Media, Erik Wemple, @hunterw, Hillicon Valley, Mediaite and Politico

It lists again the Huffington Post story in its own section as related, although there's not much original there, other than connecting some dots to other pieces.  The Beaujon's Pointer piece, which DOES have original content, is only listed as related to the HuffPo piece, along with Mashable, @tcarmody, Gawker, The Switch, Press Gazette, Big News Network.com, Talking Points Memo, Slate, The Atlantic Wire, CNET, Boing Boing, @raniakhalek, Business Insider, The New York Observer and Daily Dot.

Also, as only a related story is Reuter's Mark Hosenball scoop, with the discussion including a second HuffPo piece and  The Wrap, Washington Post, New York Times, Gannett Blog, Glenn Greenwald (when that link is to his announcement?!) Mashable, Erik Wemple, PE Hub Blog, The Verge, FishbowlNY, @qhardy, New York Magazine, Softpedia News, Business Insider, Mediaite, VentureBeat, and GigaOM. Which goes to show that algorithms rate popularity, not quality, I guess. I'm glad that Omidyar is interested in both: Again from 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...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.