Ebay Founder's $250m media venture loses top reporter

It might be time for a pivot to save the troubled venture...
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor
Matt Taibbi at a Commonwealth Club event in April 2014.

Former Rolling Stone feature writer Matt Taibbi has pulled out of a new publication funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's $250m First Look Media Group. The unnamed publication was due to be launched in the fall and Taibbi's departure leaves an editorial team without its chief muckraker.

Omidyar wrote:

I regret to announce that after several weeks of discussions, Matt Taibbi has left First Look. We wish him well.

Our differences were never about editorial independence. ...Now we turn our focus to exploring next steps for the talented team that has worked to create Matt's publication.

...Above all, we remain committed to our team and to the First Look mission.

Foremski's Take:

It's not surprising that Matt Taibbi departed. In late July, Omidyar admitted that he had no special plan of solving the problem of funding for good journalism. 

He wrote: "We are unwavering in our desire to reach a mass audience, but the best way to do that may be through multiple experiments with existing digital communities."

Not having a plan to reach a mass audience is like garlic to a vampire when it comes to journalists. I asked Taibbi in April if he felt confident that Omidyar's venture could provide the same large readership that he had at Rolling Stone magazine. He said, "I think so..."

Also, Taibbi is best as a writer with a great editorial team to support his work and he probably isn't best suited to building a newsroom and managing very diverse and large teams of professionals.

Omidyar assumes that by hiring popular journalists he can reach large audiences without much work. But that's not true. It takes considerable work to capitalize on star writers and that includes building a large media platform to host their talents. 

Strangely, Omidyar misses the point regarding media business models when he writes that he doesn't want to build one "big flagship site" and wants to run small media "experiments" to figure out what works.

Media business models are based entirely on size and there's no other model unless it is niche and highly targeted and with a costly paywall.  

Could eBay have succeeded if it were fragmented across niche communities of small sellers? Then why does Omidyar think he can succeed with a different strategy?

Omidyar's second look at his First Look Media strategy has zapped all the momentum behind the project and Taibbi's departure is a signal that other leading journalists will heed as a warning. It will be difficult for Omidyar to save this $250m venture.

It's time for a pivot. "MediaX Labs — incubating great media ventures. By First Look Media."

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