A first look at First Look Media
It has been three months since Glenn Greenwald left The Guardian in the wake of his Edward Snowden scoop to join a new media property with the eBay founder and chairman Pierre Omidyar, offering scant detail about what the new venture will look like.
On Monday, First Look Media released an illustrated explainer with a little more. The organization, according to the video narrated by Omidyar himself, seeks to bring curated news and information to consumers in a way that meets their needs and lifestyles.
“We’re being very ambitious about the scope of what we’re going to cover and degree that we’re going to approach that in an innovative way,” former Rolling Stone editor Eric Bates, who signed with the venture in November to advise on editorial strategy, told Capital. “We’re going to launch in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of formats. We’re trying to figure out how [consumers] get the news and where they get it. We’re still at the dawn of that process.”
Other well-backed digital-first media firms launched recently have insisted that they will address the changing ways in which readers consume the news. (On Sunday, Ezra Klein's "Project X" with Vox Media was the latest.) Both Omidyar and and Bates sang what is becoming a common refrain. First Look is creating an entirely separate technology company to build the venture's back-end, Omidyar said.
When it comes to the way current media organizations publish online, Bates said, much of the process is still very print-oriented. “You put a story online, slap a headline on it and then you move on to the next thing,” he said. “That’s a print model, a very sort of rudimentary way of thinking about this device cluttered world we live in.”
In its efforts to find an alternative, First Look will create several digital magazines in addition to a flagship site. The site will incorporate a mix of original reporting and aggregation while drawing content from its satellite publications. Each will cover a specific topic led by a journalist or editor that has developed an expertise in that particular subject area.
“What’s exciting to us is that this model allows journalists to come in that have a real vision of how they think a subject ought to be covered,” he said. “Instead of putting someone into a vertical and saying ‘here you’re going to cover entertainment,’ it’s really saying 'create a publication from scratch the way you think it ought to be done.'"
Bates said First Look is in serious talks with some candidates to edit the properties, but that there is nothing firm in place. The first of the digital magazines is expected to be available in the coming weeks, ahead of the site's launch later this year.
In the video, Omidyar said that First Look will provide its journalists with the technology and resources they need to effectively report and investigate a story, including legal protection. It may be a telling detail, as Greenwald is still in possession of a trove of unpublished material given to him by Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor turned leaker.
“One of the issues in doing aggressive investigative journalism has always been the degree to which publishers can take a risk at being sued,” Bates said. “Often [among publishers] there’s a pressure to minimize that risk. I think we’re going to do a pro-publish approach. We’re not going to focus on risk and why we shouldn’t but how can we publish. We can approach knowing there’s a risk but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to publish. It comes down to are you prepared to defend your work and journalists. In this case yes. We’re going to stand by the folks that write for us.”
The company will be offering their proprietary technology to other businesses for license, but it’s not clear what other revenue sources First Look will be looking to capitalize on. As for right now, however, Bates said that he and the First Look team which includes former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, have been focusing strictly on the editorial side.
“What’s refreshing is that this is not entirely revenue or click driven. It doesn’t mean we don’t want this to be self-sustaining," Bates said. "We’re going to look into models or combinations of models but that’s a whole other piece of work. That’s where the approach matters, we’re not locked in or wedded to a particular model.”
As for specific content, First Look will “have a very active aggregation and curation operation of our own, striving to cover breaking news that people really need,” Bates added. Additionally, in what is likely Greenwald’s influence, First Look will hire a team of investigative reporters and focus on producing longform reporting and video content in ways that smaller publications could not.
You can watch the video below: