Does Pierre Omidyar Have the Answer to For-Profit Journalism's Woes?

Multi-billionaire, philanthropist, and founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar has put his first $50 million — of a promised $250 million — to work in launching his own nonprofit journalism venture, in partnership with former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald. Could this spell the beginning of the end for the traditional model of for-profit journalism?

As mentioned in this blog previously, Omidyar's positioning could prove to be a seismic shift in the world of news gathering and reporting. The holding company of his venture, First Look Media, will represent a new way of operating for a large journalism organization and will incorporate both nonprofit and for-profit elements. The project will not be connected to Omidyar's philanthropic organizations, the Omidyar Network and the Democracy Fund, but it will retain some of the same guiding principles.

This first $50 million is being used to establish offices on both coasts in New York, San Francisco, and D.C., which will all serve as First Look Media's base of operations. The name of the company's digital publication has yet to be christened, but they plan to provide extensive coverage of "politics, government, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, arts and culture, business, technology, and investigative news."

As explained in their press release, First Look Media will be divided into both a for-profit entity "established to develop new media technology" and a nonprofit journalism outfit. The for-profit wing will reportedly funnel all profits into the journalism venture, which Omidyar promises will enjoy full editorial independence.

“This initial capital is the first step of many to bring the vision of this news organization to life,” explained Omidyar in his official statement. “I am deeply committed to the long-term effort to build a new and exciting platform for journalism — one that not only provides the innovation and infrastructure journalists need to do their best work, but that brings their reporting and storytelling to the widest possible audience.”

Does this represent a new paradigm for journalism organizations as a whole? According to NYU professor Jay Rosen, who is advising First Look Media, the idea of a for-profit business funding a nonprofit journalism organization isn't entirely new. He points to the examples of the Times Publishing Company (Tampa Bay Times), the Guardian Media Group (the Guardian), ProPublica, and Bloomberg all as having some type of profit/nonprofit arrangement. However, Rosen makes it clear that First Look Media's structure is distinct from any of those relationships.

"Here the journalism operation is a nonprofit, housed within a parent company, which may have other entities inside it," he explains. "The entire operation is designed to: 1.) support the mission of independent public service journalism, 2.) achieve sustainability and 3.) attract talent."

What's most apparent is that First Look Media is navigating uncharted waters and all eyes will be watching what happens next. It could very well be the dawn of a new age for news gathering.