Unclear strategy for eBay billionaire's 'First Look' $250m media venture

Unclear strategy for eBay billionaire's 'First Look' $250m media venture

Summary: Pierre Omidyar held a private meeting with top media professionals to gather advice and receive feedback for his plans

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

Stephan Buckley at Poynter, reported on a meeting hosted by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of First Look Media, with “about a dozen high-profile editors, journalism educators, industry analysts, and former reporters… to listen to his vision, dissect his emerging strategy and offer advice on both.”

The $250 million venture has hired two high profile reporters, Glen Greenwald and Matt Taibbi, each heading their own digital magazine, with more announcements to come.

However, judging from the Poynter report, Omidyar doesn’t have much of a plan, or an innovative solution for creating a sustainable modern media company. In that regard, he is in a similar position to fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, and his $250 million purchase of the Washington Post. 

Throughout the day, Omidyar, serious and polite in an open-necked sky-blue dress shirt, dark slacks, and rimless glasses, scribbled observations in a black notebook and asked lots of his own questions.

What became clear is that the brilliant, unassuming Omidyar is wrestling with the same questions that presumably dog many technology companies that practice journalism these days.

There were many questions that weren’t answered:

- With its focus on star reporters, will First Look become a “confederacy of brands?” (The reporter’s choice of “confederacy” implies dunces.)

- First Look executives want their publications to appeal to a mass audience and also engage with them on solving problems. How will that work?

- How will First Look become a sustainable media business given the challenges of online advertising and paywalls?

“Several participants expressed skepticism, at least quietly.” A strange line from the news report, possibly indicating that, “the brilliant, unassuming Omidyar” was more interested in approval than in the feedback from media professionals. 

Omidyar’s First Look Media looking to find its focus, target an audience | Poynter.


Foremski’s Take:

There has been a lot of optimistic talk inside the journalism community that tech billionaires will bring innovation and save quality journalism. It’s clear that those hopes are misplaced for now.

Omidyar and Bezos have no bright ideas on how to save journalism. They don’t know much about how the sausage is made and  are trying to educate themselves on how journalism is carried out, and what sustains and motivates journalists.

Here’s my feedback:

- Building a “digital magazine” around a personality such as Glenn Greenwald or Matt Taibbi is a mistake. Each now has to hire their own editorial team and create a professional newsroom. That’s not their strength. 

- Newspapers used star columnists to attract readers who bought the entire newspaper and not just the columns. Newspapers were thus able to aggregate larger numbers of readers, which attracted brands as advertisers and sponsors.     How will each individual First Look digital magazine be able to offer the scale needed to interest advertisers? 

- Each digital magazine has to build it’s own media brand; it takes years, and it often takes decades. [Bezos is ahead of the game here because the Washington Post is a well established brand.]

- Greenwald and Taibbi worked within well established media organizations with veteran, highly skilled editors and production teams,  all contributing to the success of their work. You can’t just cherry pick the writers and expect the same results.

- We need innovation in journalism but that innovation must come in the business model and not in how a news story is presented. There’s many ways to tell a story but they don’t matter if there’s no business model to sustain it.

First Look doesn’t yet have anything innovative to offer but it’s willing to try new things. I have some suggestions in my next story.



Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • Go to the telecoms

    Maybe what these guys should do is go to telecoms, and persuade the telecoms to develop digital subscription ecosystems, so that they could be members of those ecosystems. Telecoms are great, because they tend to hate giving away stuff for free, which should preserve the value of content. Also, telecoms have large amounts of paid subscribers, and all they would have to do, is extend existing subscriptions to new content. Telecoms would be able counter tech companies by having the best content available, since theirs would be the best funded. Telecoms could produce an ecosystem of digital magazines, newspapers, streaming media apps, etc. and remain relevant in the face of Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.
    P. Douglas
    • Go to the telecoms and cable companies

      P. Douglas
      • These telecoms and cable companies ...

        ... can come out with their own reader apps (similar to Kindle and Nook) on the various tablet platforms.
        P. Douglas
  • Frankly, I don't care what Pierre Omidyar does with his money

    Frankly, I don't care what Pierre Omidyar does with his money but if he had any principles he would instruct eBay Inc. to cease its demonstrable, knowing and calculated facilitation of massive auction fraud on the consumers of the world. And, I suppose that it would be too much to expect that Omidyar’s “investigative” journalists might take a look at and report on eBay’s demonstrable criminal activities?

    Fraud is endemic on eBay "nominal-start" auctions ...

    If you try to buy anything at a “nominal-start” auction on any eBay site, take great care ...

    Shill bidding fraud by professional sellers on eBay “nominal-start” auctions is demonstrably endemic; where you see bidders bidding early and often on such auctions they will most likely be sellers' shills, and eBay Inc. is - also demonstrably - the greatest knowing and calculated facilitator of such fraud on consumers that the world is ever likely to know and, doubtless, only the most naïve will believe that there will not be a trickle down effect of like criminal activity to other eBay operations ...

    The ugly reality of eBay Inc.:
    eBay's crooked auctions marketplace ... bit(DOT)ly/11F2eas
    eBay Motors (UK sampling): Auction Fraud Galore ... bit(DOT)ly/I2gTEU
    eBay Motors XSS Redirect Scams in Action: video ... bit(DOT)ly/1d46NvE
    eBay/Gumtree / Barclays Bank Motors Scams … bit(DOT)ly/1c9Uwck
    eBay's clunky, unscrupulous "PreyPal" ... bit(DOT)ly/UVXx53
    The ongoing joke of it all ... bit(DOT)ly/YvxFEg
    Fun quotes from the eBay executive suite ... bit(DOT)ly/12xvzyA

    The only thing that surprises me about eBay, this lazy, greedy, utterly unscrupulous, criminal operation is that it has not yet summoned up the gall to even further obscure this endemic shill bidding fraud—that it knowingly facilitates—by converting its auctions wholly to its optional, devious, seller-selected, "private listing" format, or by changing bidding IDs to "Bidder 1", "Bidder 2", "Bidder 3", etc, as they initially were going to do/did when Johnny Ho first introduced the additional layer of anonymity for (shill) bidders in 2008, nor - surprisingly - have they yet ceased to publish the details of "completed" listings, a post-sale analysis of which, with some effort, can clearly demonstrate this endemic fraud, and eBay's calculated facilitation thereof, on the consumers of the world ...

    And what does the "smart money" on Wall Street think about eBay? Well, in August 2007, when the "Pain From Bain", Johnny Ho, was already effectively in control of eBay, the share prices of eBay and Amazon were both ~$40; now eBay is ~$54; Amazon is ~$322. Clearly, Wall Street considers eBay to be a "dog", and Johnny Ho to be a very poor dog handler ...

    One has to wonder if Omidyar has ever thought about just how much more fabulously wealthy he might now have been had he not ok'd the handing over of the control of eBay to the unscrupulous, delusional, destructive, incompetent, narcissistic, sociopathic Johnny Ho? Indeed, had he, in August 2007, traded in the ~108 million eBay shares, that he still holds today, for shares in Amazon, instead of ~$6 billion, his worth would now have been ~$38 billion! Now that, surely, is something for all of eBay's long-suffering "long" investors to think about, is it not? ...
    Philip Cohen