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As the eagle-eyed investigative journalists at Pando Daily recently noted, there hasn’t exactly been an outpouring of new material from The Intercept — the high-profile First Look Media property that includes newly-crowned Pulitzer Prize winners Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. In a sort of open letter to readers, Intercept editor and Gawker alumnus John Cook said the main reason for the radio silence is that the new entity is still trying to figure out how things are going to work, hiring new writers and editors, and more or less getting down to business.
And when will the finished product be ready? “I don’t know, but soon,” the typically acerbic Cook said in a free-form Q&A session that took place in the comments. Until then, he said, the only new material coming from The Intercept will be news stories related to the NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden — unless, he added, “Glenn Greenwald has some blogging he wants to do, because no one can stop Glenn Greenwald from blogging.” Apart from that, said Cook:
“The Intercept will be narrowly focusing on one thing and one thing only: Reporting out stories from the NSA archive as quickly and responsibly as is practicable. We will do so at a tempo that suits the material. When we are prepared to publish those stories, we will publish them. When we are not, we will be silent for a time.”
The Intercept: A work in progress
It’s not really that surprising that The Intercept would still have some work left to do in setting up the organization. While its existence has been known since October, that was (ironically) the result of a leak, and the only person attached to the idea at that point was Greenwald. While backer Pierre Omidyar may have committed $250 million to First Look, finding and hiring good writers and editors, setting up an office etc. still takes time.
When asked what kind of attributes he was looking for in filling out the ranks at The Intercept, Cook was succinct — and possibly also somewhat controversial: “Not white. Not male. Fast,” he said. “Interested in reporting as a live, iterative process that plays out on the Internet, as well as one where you go away for six weeks and come back with 4,000 words.”
One commenter asked whether outside investments by First Look financial backer Pierre Omidyar, including the co-funding of USAID programs in Ukraine — something that was the subject of a long and critical article at Pando in February — would interfere with the editorial process at The Intercept. Cook replied:
“My position is that we have publicly been guaranteed complete editorial independence (https://firstlook.org/about/). Any interference in our editorial work would be an abrogation of that agreement. I have every expectation that it will be honored. Our credibility comes from the work we have done and will do, not from our financial backer.”
Looking for a good comment system
When asked what kinds of stories The Intercept would be focusing on outside of the NSA leaks from Snowden, Cook said that he wasn’t targeting specific beats so much as he was looking for an attitude: “Long term, I want the site to be identified more by the posture that Glenn, Laura, and Jeremy exemplify – aggressive, honest, impolite when necessary, and unburdened by the institutional norms that govern the behavior of so many reporters at major establishment news organizations – than any menu of beats or subject areas.”
Not surprisingly, a number of commenters (many of whom seemed to be regular participants in Greenwald-related discussions on other political and news sites) complained about the low-quality commenting system on The Intercept’s website, as well as the fact that a number of critical comments were deleted. Cook said that the site was looking for a good commenting system, but the first priority was to get the editorial structure in place.
At that point, Joel Johnson — editor-in-chief at Gawker Media and Cook’s former colleague — said the site was welcome to use Kinja, the discussion platform that Gawker has been rolling out across all its sites, which (among other things) turns commenters into bloggers. Cook responded that he participated in the beta testing of Kinja, and added “I look forward to such a time as it reaches its full potential.”
Among other things, Cook also said that The Intercept will be covering international stories (but he doesn’t know whether it will have actual bureaus in different countries), that he did not attend a recent symposium of media advisers convened by Omidyar to discuss how First Look should proceed, and that the site planned to publish “a wide variety of stories – short, fast posts to keep the site alive” as well as “lengthy reported narratives to devote attention to stories that need to be told, and all manner of story in between.”