Nine Months in, First Look is Still Very Much a Startup

Pierre Omidyar

It’s been some time since I’ve shared what we’re working on at First Look Media and I wanted to provide an update. Many of you may have seen the video we produced earlier this year in which I described the broad goals of our organization. Since then, we have been laying the foundation for our company with a long-term view.

To date we’ve built our editorial team to 25 journalists, a number we expect to double by the end of the year. We have secured and are building out permanent offices in New York and San Francisco. We’ve established a litigation support program to back important legal cases to strengthen and protect press freedoms. And we’ve partnered with the talented Matt Taibbi to plan and launch this fall a new digital magazine with a satirical approach to American politics and culture.

At the same time, since creating The Intercept, we’ve also been able to reflect more deeply on what is required to deliver on the promise I made in the video: “to experiment, innovate and overcome existing obstacles and to make it easier for journalists to deliver the transformative stories we all need.”

I am committed to creating a journalistic organization that has a major and positive impact for the greater good — and doing so with a startup spirit of trying new things, learning as we go and following an iterative process. We will take lessons from failures and apply them to the next things we try.

I want to build a great news organization that sustains itself independently. But the critical measure of our work will be whether it makes a difference. We will define success by the benefit our work provides consumers, not by the awards or accolades it receives.

The big question we’ve been exploring over the past few months is how best to achieve our ambitious long-terms goals. We have definitely rethought some of our original ideas and plans. For example, rather than building one big flagship website, we’ve concluded that we will have greater positive impact if we test more ideas and grow them based on what we learn. We are unwavering in our desire to reach a mass audience, but the best way to do that may be through multiple experiments with existing digital communities rather than trying to draw a large audience to yet another omnibus site.

And rather than immediately launching a large collection of digital “magazines” based on strong, expert journalists with their own followings, as we imagined earlier, we’ll begin by building out the two we’ve started and then explore adding new ones as we learn.

Our first two sites are an important start, and I’m personally excited to see the ways they’ll reach new audiences with their own unique brands of in-depth journalism.

I believe deeply in the importance of the work of independent journalists — people like Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi. Whatever direction our experiments lead us, we will continue to invest in our journalists and support their commitment to fearless, fact-based reporting. We will continue to fund deep investigative reporting and back it up with the travel and research budgets necessary to support it.

At the same time, we will add new dimensions to First Look. We’ll test an approach to journalism that starts with being part of well-defined communities of interest, understanding the people in them and serving their needs and aspirations in new ways. The digital world gives us unprecedented opportunities to meet this vision.

I expect we’ll be in this planning, startup and experimental mode for at least the next few years as we explore how to become integrated into people’s lives in meaningful ways. During that time, we’re going to continually test new ideas and approaches to use technology and journalism to achieve our mission.

I deeply admire many of today’s journalism organizations, but at First Look we’re not trying to replicate or make incremental improvements to existing approaches. We’re trying to create a healthy future for journalism by supporting ventures and practices that empower citizens in new ways.

As a startup journalistic venture built on experimentation, I believe we need to take a humble approach to our work and embrace experimentation and disciplined, continuous learning. This will be reflected in how we approach our work and deal with each other and our audiences.

We’re entering a phase that demands we spend more time and resources focusing on technology and how it can enhance the impact of journalism. The hub of that effort will be in San Francisco, where we’ll create an opportunity for technologists to break new ground. We’re working with design thinkers in a variety of ways to develop fresh, user-centered approaches to the questions we’re asking.

We’ve already test-launched a small, invite-only pilot fellowship program offering grants to incubate experiments to people who share our commitment to harnessing the potential of technology and journalism to serve the greater good.

I started my career as a technologist and it remains a passion. Working with other technologists, I can’t wait to tackle some of the thorny technology and product challenges we know exist and others we are sure to uncover.

Whatever we do, we will have at our core the goal of improving society through journalism and technology, of helping individuals hold the powerful accountable, build responsive institutions, and most important, shape their communities and what happens in their lives for the better.

This means First Look will be about the people we serve, not about me as its founder or our journalists and technologists as its creators.

I’m excited about the direction we’re taking. As we take shape, I hope you’ll let me know how we’re doing. If this is a vision that inspires you, I hope you’ll keep your eye on this site as we share more about opportunities to work together to build it.