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Jeremy Scahill, Laura Poitras Reportedly Joining Forces With Greenwald for New Site

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Posted on Oct 16, 2013
Facebook/DirtyWars

Glenn Greenwald, left, and Jeremy Scahill working on the documentary “Dirty Wars.”

More details emerged Wednesday about the major new media outlet that came to light when Glenn Greenwald announced he was leaving The Guardian for a “once-in-a-career opportunity.”

First, the backer: eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, whose net worth is close to $9 billion, is reportedly prepared to invest as much as $250 million in the venture. It will be a for-profit company, and according to writer Jay Rosen, profits will be “reinvested in the journalism.” Omidyar already invests in less ambitious news projects, and is said to have become increasingly concerned with the state of journalism. His interest was also piqued when The Washington Post invited him to buy the paper, with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos ultimately winning that bid.

Although they are still in the “very early stages,” the site has already attracted big name talent. In addition to Greenwald, documentarian Laura Poitras (who helped break the Edward Snowden/NSA surveillance story) and Jeremy Scahill (author of “Blackwater” and The Nation’s national security correspondent) are said to be on board.

Here is how the whole thing will work, according to Rosen:

At the core of [the new company] 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.

That sounds great, but there are some real hurdles that pop up. In this managing editor’s experience, independent journalists “who have their own reputations ... clear points of view, an independent and outsider spirit” are exactly the sort who tend to resist “high standards of editing.” That’s assuming “high standards” means those championed by the old media (outside of “objectivity,” which is a whole other discussion). Rigorous editing can seem alien, unnecessary and invasive to ambitious young journalists, although it’s exactly the sort of mashup that sounds good on paper.

Nonetheless, with headliners such as Scahill, Greenwald and Poitras, Omidyar’s venture has taken enviable first steps.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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