Interview, Steve Brill, Part I: ‘We Shouldn’t Sue, We Should Do It’

imageHow did Steve Brill, Gordon Crovitz and Leo Hindery, Jr., wind up cofounding a venture to make online journalism pay? Or, in this case, Journalism Online, LLC. It dates as far back as the ’90s when Hindery almost wound up owning a stake in Brill’s CourtTV joint venture only to have the football yanked at the last minute by his cable mentor John Malone — and as recently as this February, when Brill saw a Wall Street Journal op-ed by former WSJ publisher Crovitz contending that newspapers should be charging for at least some content. That was the same view Brill, the founder of American lawyer, Court TV and media mag Brill’s Content, expressed in his detailed memo on how to save the New York Times that made a splash earlier that month. Match that with Crovitz’s strong make-online-pay resume at Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS) and Brill’s belief that he has a model that can do just that across the news industry, add in Hindery’s private equity firm Intermedia Advisors and here we are, a scant few weeks later talking about a new company called Journalism Online, LLC.

In the past three weeks, they’ve met with a number of news execs (no, they weren’t part of the “secret” meetings in San Diego last week) but no agreements; then again, they don’t have affiliate agreements to offer yet. The biggest surprise so far? Brill says that every publisher they’ve met with has asked about picking up an equity stake. Some edited excerpts from our conversation Tuesday as the news was going live:

Staci D. Kramer: Do you have a financial (funding) range that you can give me?

Steve Brill: Not that I want to give you but the whole idea here is we all realize this is simply stage one and it doesn’t make sense to think about raising a lot of money right now until we’ve gotten our affiliation agreements in place and all our plans in place and then we think we won