BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week, Glenn Greenwald, best known as the reporter through which we learned of massive NSA domestic spying, by way of Edward Snowden's leaks, announced that he was leaving The Guardian newspaper for what he called, quote, “a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity.” It's a brand new venture, funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar had already launched an investigative news outlet covering civic affairs in Hawaii, called Honolulu Civil Beat. But with this new, as yet unnamed outlet, he's putting $250 million of his own money behind Greenwald, his reporting partner in the Snowden story, filmmaker Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, late of The Nation. Jay Rosen, New York University journalism professor and founder of the pressthink blog, says Omidyar told him that he wants to build a new kind of news organization.
JAY ROSEN: He wants, first of all, to find more people like Glenn Greenwald, who are independent journalists, who have subject matter expertise – that’s very important to him - as well as their own voice, as well as an online following –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm?
JAY ROSEN: - and then provide them with a platform and tools and support. He also believes that you need to bring the work of such journalists to a broader audience than their niches might allow them on their own.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You also described that he would try to strike the proper midpoint between voicy blogging and traditional journalism, in which the best of both are combined.
JAY ROSEN: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sometimes these things can completely work together, but sometimes they seem to be at odds.
JAY ROSEN: The thing that Omidyar mentioned to me three or four times in our discussion was the importance of having strong editors, so that you get the discipline of traditional journalism and the voice of blogging.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: One of the reasons why I’m fascinated by this is because it harkens back to a time when some of the greatest journalism in American history was being produced, around 1900, the days of the muckrakers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - that had particular points of view.
JAY ROSEN: That’s right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But the reporting was extremely highly regarded and very influential.
JAY ROSEN: If you go back to The Shame of the Cities, the Lincoln Steffens book about municipal corruption, one of the things he says, by way of introduction, is, “My purpose here wasn't just to lay out the facts. I wanted to destroy the facts.”
Meaning he wanted to end municipal corruption. That kind of reporting gave birth to what we think of as investigative reporting today.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The moment when these magazines arose was precisely the time when there were two extremes of journalism. There was –
JAY ROSEN: Mm-hmm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - the rise of, quote, “objectivity,” incarnated in the New York Times under Adolph Ochs, although it wasn't always reflected in the Times' pages. And then you had the yellow journalist that exaggerated facts and, and didn't really care much about credibility.
JAY ROSEN: Mm-hmm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And much of the public at that time didn't either. I wonder whether or not we have the same public, with the same appetites, and within that public there’s an audience that is hungry for something like McClure’s or Collier’s?
JAY ROSEN: There is an opportunity for a form of journalism which obeys the highest standards of verification and, at the same time, maximizes personal voice. By trying to combine those two things in a technologically advanced way, you might get to a kind of news organization that we haven't seen before.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ryan Tate wrote in Wired that it's hard not to feel optimistic when a billionaire says he wants to plow hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting independent journalists.
JAY ROSEN: Mm-hmm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But these tech billionaires have tried this before. Salon has losses of over $116 million, Slate cost Microsoft 20 million before it was sold to the Post Company. You survey this landscape. In your view, is he trying something that hasn't been tried before?
JAY ROSEN: I think he has some things in mind that he hasn’t revealed yet, because when I asked him questions like that, I could tell that he was kind of drawing a curtain around certain things that he doesn’t want to reveal yet. I think it’s very significant that Omidyar is undertaking this project after his experience with Civil Beat in Honolulu, because he started out with certain ideas about that project and then had to modify them, through the experience of learning how hard it is to produce a new site that can sustain itself. Civil Beat now, with its alliance with Huffington Post Hawaii, is in a very different place than it was when it started. If he was the sort of billionaire who started out with a sort of naïve idea about remaking the online journalism landscape and was quick to realize that it’s just a money pit,that would have already happened.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
JAY ROSEN: And here he is, after this experience, doing this site, which was supposed to be civic engagement in serious public policy matters in Hawaii, not only willing to do it again but to pour more into it, at an even bigger scale.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jay, thank you very much.
JAY ROSEN: You are so welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jay Rosen is a journalism professor at NYU. He blogs at pressthink.org.