Ebay Founder Plans $250-Million Media Venture

Friday, 18 Oct 2013 11:17 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar is investing $250 million in a new media venture he says was inspired by his “rising concern about press freedoms in the United States and around the world," U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported.

Omidyar most recently recruited Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian journalist who wrote a blockbuster series of stories on U.S. electronic surveillance programs based on documents from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

Greenwald announced earlier this week he was leaving the Guardian to work on the yet-unnamed venture.

The eBay founder told New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen's Press Think he hopes the project will promote “independent journalists with expertise, and a voice and a following” while using Silicon Valley knowhow to build an audience.

“Companies in Silicon Valley invest a lot in understanding their users and what drives user engagement,” Omidyar said. The company will be online only and all proceeds will be reinvested in journalism.

In his blog, Omidyar said he'd been exploring a purchase of The Washington Post, which was ultimately bought by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

“That process got me thinking about what kind of social impact could be created if a similar investment was made in something entirely new, built from the ground up," he wrote. "Something that I would be personally and directly involved in outside of my other efforts as a philanthropist.

“I developed an interest in supporting independent journalists in a way that leverages their work to the greatest extent possible, all in support of the public interest.

"And, I want to find ways to convert mainstream readers into engaged citizens. I think there’s more that can be done in this space, and I’m eager to explore the possibilities."

Omidyar said he was in the “very early stages of creating a new mass media organization." He said it would cover general news as well as produce investigative journalism.

Omidyar, who is chairman of the board at eBay Inc. but not involved in day-to-day operations, has numerous philanthropic, business and political interests, mainly through an investment entity called the Omidyar Network.

Forbes pegged the 46-year-old Omidyar's net worth at $8.5 billion.

Among his ventures is Honolulu Civil Beat, a news website covering public affairs in Hawaii. Civil Beat aimed to create a new online journalism model with paid subscriptions and respectful comment threads, though it is unclear how successful it has been.

Omidyar, an Iranian-American born in France, also founded the Democracy Fund to support "social entrepreneurs working to ensure that our political system is responsive to the public," according to its website.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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