Billionaires and the press

When a billionaire arrived into the news business in Ireland in the last years, the results included a well-regarded investigative journalist being ushered out the door. So, billionaires and journalism, a good combination?

With the news that Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill are joining forces with billionaire Pierre Omidyar, a new news organisation is being born, online only, and apparently dedicated to investigative and deep reporting. Whether it’s non-profit or not remains to be revealed, but presumably it will be for profit as this does not seem to be a philanthropic venture.

Jay Rosen from NYU spoke to Omidyar in the last days, and reported: Why is Omidyar doing this? He said that his involvement in Civil Beat (a news site he started in Hawaii) stoked his appetite to try something larger in news. “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 he 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.

Read Jay Rosen’s overview here. Now, you may have raised an eyebrow at Omidyar’s reference to Netflix, but if you’ve seen Kevin Spacey’s rather entertaining James MacTaggart Memorial speech you’ll be aware of the vast and speedy changes happening with media and press paradigms. The editor of the French site Mediapart Edwy Plenel has also argued that audiences will pay to support good writing and news, though sustainable models have yet to emerge without trying to replicate a standard newspaper complete with sports, culture and entertainment sections – which often feature the best writing and most provocative work.

Read Christian Christensen here for another perspective broadly supportive of the move. DIT lecturer Harry Browne has previously argued that the philanthropic model seemed to be far from ideal, and makes the same point about control by one benefactor or organisation. It’s going to be interesting to watch how this develops.

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