First Look Media — the new media entity that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is building and has promised to fund to the tune of at least $250 million — is still in its formative stages, but one thing it is focused on is opening up the practice of journalism. To that end, the company has hired Andy Carvin, the former NPR editor whose work in using Twitter for real-time journalism transformed how many people experienced breaking news events such as the “Arab Spring.”
In an interview about the move, Carvin — who will join the new company part time until he finishes his research as a Tow Center fellow at Columbia University later this year — said that not only does he share Omidyar’s commitment to journalism that focuses on the public good, but the chance to help design and build a brand new media entity from the ground up was impossible to pass up.
“There are only so many times during one’s career where an entire news operation is built from scratch — the only two that come to mind over the last generation or two are CNN and Al Jazeera — so it’s really exciting to get involved as one is being crafted and to help with that.”
Making social media a core principle
Last year, Carvin took a voluntary buyout from NPR after seven years with the public-radio outlet. He said his decision to leave wasn’t driven by dissatisfaction, but a desire to move on and try something new. “They were extremely generous in giving me the latitude I needed to experiment and go down the rabbit hole as far as I needed to” with things like the Arab Spring and Twitter, he said. “But at the same time I felt like I had accomplished a lot, and it felt like it was time to try something different.”
Interestingly enough, this won’t be the first time that Carvin has been involved with a public-focused online project created by Omidyar: A number of years ago — before he joined National Public Radio — Carvin said he became a member of an early social network called Omidyar.net, which the eBay founder had launched as a meeting place for people who worked with non-profits or social justice. “It was one of those seminal online communities for me,” Carvin said.
Carvin said a big part of what First Look Media wants to do is to make social media of all kinds — and the connection it allows between journalists and audience — an integral part of what the news outlet does:
“Even with some digital news startups over the last several years, social media is usually an add-on to promote their content, to try to get it to go viral, etc. This feels like a great opportunity to see what it would look like for a news organization to be engaged in collaborating with the public on a more fundamental level across its operations.”
A chance to reinvent journalism in the open
As Omidyar and others associated with the new entity — including advisor Jay Rosen — have described, the initial vision for First Look is to build a series of magazine-style formats or portals around individual journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, people whose “perspectives and reputations and personalities are already strong online,” as Carvin put it. So it’s natural, he said, to “have social media baked in directly, because it’s all about the people.”
Carvin also said that his background with NPR is likely to help with this aspect of what First Look Media wants to do, since public radio is all about community engagement and forming a bond with listeners, right down to the “crowdfunding” approach of pledge drives. He said he didn’t know whether crowdfunding would be a part of First Look’s business model, but there’s no question that public entities like NPR have a leg up in that department because they have been doing it for years.
On a personal note, I was a fan of Carvin’s journalistic work during the Arab Spring and afterwards, and I have repeatedly argued that what he did was journalism — and a pioneering form of it — when others were adamant that it was not. I think his ability to use Twitter as a real-time, crowdsourced “public newsroom” was a model for what more journalists should be doing during breaking news events, and a great example of what Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger calls “open journalism.”
If that’s what Carvin is going to help First Look Media build, then I am all for it.
Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user PersonalDemocracy