Tag Archives: glenn greenwald

We still don’t know what First Look Media is trying to be

It’s not hard to come up with short elevator pitches for many of today’s media startups. Vox is an explainer site that will act as a kind of Wikipedia for news. FiveThirtyEight focuses primarily on numbers and data journalism. The Upshot is a mixture of data viz and explainer journalism. But it’s hard to determine what First Look Media wants to be and how it’ll differentiate itself in the marketplace. Its publishing platform and looks is pretty basic, and though it has some big names behind it (Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi) and a billionaire technologist funding it (Pierre Omidyar), there’s this sense, at least from the outside, that it’s a publication still in search editorial focus:

As it turns out, First Look is grappling with the same fundamental problems facing other news startups across the spectrum—how to make money and how to be distinctive—and, so far, hasn’t had much progress in finding a solution to either.

When First Look was announced in January with a sleek animated video, the organization described an expansive operation that would include an omnibus flagship publication that would cover everything from politics to sports to culture, along with a flotilla of magazines led by prominent journalists covering specific subjects. The video promised an extensive support system not unlike those provided by mainstream media in its heyday, along with a separate technology company that would explore ways to turn journalism “innovation into commercial opportunities.”

Why hasn’t Glenn Greenwald’s news org published anything in 10 days?

Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald famously landed in New York last week to accept a Polk Award for his coverage of the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal, and many are predicting he’ll be among the winners announced today for the Pulitzer. So why has The Intercept, the publication Greenwald launched with a large investment from Pierre Omidyar, suddenly gone dark?

Of the site’s high profile hires, Greenwald has posted most recently, back on April 4th, but has since been silent. His colleague Laura Poitras hasn’t written a word since the site’s opening post back in February, Jeremy Scahill has been silent since February too, and even the usually prolific Marcy Wheeler hasn’t published in a month.

It’s not that the team has been too busy to write: Greenwald continues to tweet several times a day, and Wheeler has continued to write on her own blog, the most recent entry being just two days ago. As we know, Greenwald and Poitras are currently in the US to collect a Polk award for their national security reporting, mainly while Greenwald was at the Guardian. (Scahill has been mute on Twitter since Pando reported him revealing Omidyar’s involvement in First Look media.)

UPDATE: Editor John Cook explains the silence:

The site launched in February with an announcement from co-founders Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill that The Intercept was coming online with an initial short-term focus on stories about the operations of the National Security Agency, based in large part on an archive of documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The decision to begin publishing at that point was based on a commitment to continue the work of reporting on, publishing, and explicating those documents. It was not based on an assessment that everything that one needs for the successful launch of a news web site–staff, editorial capacity, and answers to questions about the site’s broader focus, operational strategy, structure, and design–had been worked out.

Those things still have not been worked out, and over the past three weeks I have begun the process of resolving them in collaboration with the remarkably talented team that has already been assembled here. Until we have completed the work of getting staffed up and conceptually prepared for the launch of a full-bore news operation that will be producing a steady stream of shit-kicking stories, The Intercept will be narrowly focusing on one thing and one thing only: Reporting out stories from the NSA archive as quickly and responsibly as is practicable. We will do so at a tempo that suits the material. When we are prepared to publish those stories, we will publish them. When we are not, we will be silent for a time, unless Glenn Greenwald has some blogging he wants to do, because no one can stop Glenn Greenwald from blogging.

Why are VCs suddenly investing in news orgs?

VCs and investors have been pouring millions of dollars into new media ventures recently, ranging from Ezra Klein’s Vox to Glenn Greenwald’s First Look to Jonah Peritti’s BuzzFeed. Why the sudden interest? Typically, a VC invests in a company with the hope for a large return many times the initial investment once the company goes public or is acquired. Do any of these new news organizations really have that short-term potential, and is the investment creating the right kind of incentive structure to practice quality journalism? Gawker’s Nick Denton doesn’t think so:

Not every media company has chased venture capital funding, however. Gawker Media, for example, has bootstrapped its entire operation since its founding in 2003. It is, however, an exception.

“We never raised money because we fund growth from cashflow,” said Nick Denton, CEO of Gawker Media by email. “And the journalistic pursuit of the truth is not compatible with outside investment. It’s impossible because of venture funds’ sensitivity to criticism, short time horizons and attachment to conventional wisdom,” he said.