Thursday, July 31, 2014

In the Midst of This Blood Summer

It would appear that Pierre Omidyar has decided to pull the plug on his Grand Plan to Transform the Media at First Look and content himself with a blog or two that "experiment" with various means and methods of... what... exactly?

That's still something of a mystery, but the Grand Plan appears to be dead.

Some time back, Pierre put up a blog post that you wouldn't have known about unless you're following his twits or those of some of his stable of writers closely. I think I noticed it in passing through the comments on some post at The Intercept. It got little or no notice outside the world of the First Look at any rate, but it is an interesting walk back from all the promises announced and tub-thumped for so very long by the First Lookers and Interceptors -- without any discernible results for month after month, except one: the huge stable of writers Pierre had assembled essentially stopped writing once they signed with Pierre. Even the ever prolix and prolific Greenwald's output diminished to practically nothing for weeks at a time.

Reducing or eliminating output by formerly busy and sometimes power-questioning writers appeared to be the main purpose of First Look, as many observers pointed out, sometimes unkindly. Jeremy Scahill essentially disappeared; Matt Taibbi likewise. Oh they did their rounds for their book/movie tours, but that had nothing whatever to do with First Look or anything else that Pierre was involved in (so far as we know. He had his had in many ventures.) Laura Poitras has never contributed to The Intercept, nor has Liliana Segura. Marcy Wheeler bailed out months ago after contributing one piece. There were occasional pieces of generally "old news" by Ryan Gallagher and Ryan Devereaux, sometimes co-bylined by Greenwald, but likely not co-written by him. There were a few articles by Murtaza Hussain. But apart from that, practically nothing, month after month.

The lack of production and the frequency of excuses was striking, especially given all the other news startups going balls to the wall at around the same time, with special mention of Quartz, Vox, and Vice, but they are far from the only ones. They and many other online news sites have been running circles around Pierre's First Look (that was getting nowhere, with its one "magazine" that so rarely published and seemed quite flaccid when it did.) There was and is simply no comparison between First Look's practically absent content and the daily sometimes extraordinary content of a dozen or more online news ventures that were actually cranking out... erm... news.

So. John Cook appeared to order everyone to sit down and shut up and wait for however long it would take to get the operation up and running; it wasn't ready yet, and all the nay-sayers were poopy-pants. Greenwald would post when and if he wanted, and everyone else would be on hiatus until the site was "ready." So just shut up. Then he disappeared again, they said "on vacation". Who knew? Who cared?

First Look was looking more and more like the Last Look Back as news was being broken all over the media long before anything would appear in the one faltering "magazine" that was essentially a group blog on a broken WordPress platform, a group blog that hardly ever published or updated.

First Look and The Intercept were a joke.

Pierre had to intervene because this month-after-month of nothing made him look ridiculous for devoting $50 million or $250 million to... nothing. Wags made mock, to say the least.

Pierre's primary claim is that the enterprise is still very much a "startup." Which means, essentially, that it doesn't actually exist as a going concern, and it may never.

It is a still experimental experiment that may never go anywhere at all (startups are like that you know) and it is no longer positioned to be this "transformative" media thing-a-ma-bob that it was promoted as, but just what it will be, nobody knows. There will be Greenwald's blog and the now re-conceived Taibbi Thing (to debut sometime, one day... maybe) and that's about it.

Pierre will continue to support something similar to an investigative journalism enterprise, by funding things like travel and accommodations and legal fees and whatnot, but what comes of it, if anything, may be published elsewhere in already extant outlets rather than at anything new and transformative that Pierre has created out of the air.

In other words, First Look, as it was conceived is dead.

It ain't gonna be that.

And it may never be anything.

Got that?


There's a message here somewhere...

In the meantime, Telesur English is up and running. Those devilish Chavistas. Check it out. 


  1. I notice you can't comment on his post at First Look. Funny. This whole thing looks like a disaster but maybe that's what was supposed to happen? He sidelined a bunch of fairly talented journalists and now what? Are they free to leave? I guess if he's still paying them big bucks maybe they don't care. I think the real explanation of why Marcy Wheeler left would help explain some of this stuff. Quite the intrigue.


    1. It looks like Marcy is not inclined to explain her departure from The Enterprise that was First Look, though she said she would one day. Maybe she's writing a book?

      Meanwhile, the notion that after nine months of excuses, First Look is still a startup is quaint. (Of course, Pando claims it's a startup, too, but at least they have content.)

      First Look didn't even have their preliminary "what's this thing supposed to be and do" meeting until April. From appearances, it was never actually meant to be anything but a holding pen for certain writers who had from time to time made waves among the well-placed and powerful. And maybe an access point for the Snowden trove.

      It's been very successful as a holding pen, that's for sure.

      Whether it will ever be anything else is a matter of speculation, but the reveal has been delayed for so long, and there are so many other competent and new or newish outlets with content out there (regardless of what we might think of their content) that First Look has made itself pretty much irrelevant.

      Nice goin' there Pierre!