The billionaire founder of EBay has pledged to spend US$250m to fund an online news startup that will be fronted by Glenn Greenwald, the departing Guardian journalist who leaked US intelligence documents disclosed by former US security analyst Edward Snowden.
Pierre Omidyar said that he wanted to use part of his US$8.5 billion fortune to fund an operation to speak up for what he described as his “rising concern about press freedoms” across the globe, working not just with Greenwald, but also with other journalists who had been involved with reporting on the Snowden files.
“I have always been of the opinion that the right kind of journalism is a critical part of our democracy,” Omidyar said in an interview with media analyst Jay Rosen.
“It brings together some of my interests in civic engagement and building conversations and of course technology, but in a very creative way,” he added.
Born in Paris to Iranian parents, Omidyar was propelled from computer coder to overnight billionaire in 1998 when EBay was floated on the NASDAQ stock exchange.
The site he personally hand-coded under the early name Auction Web made him a poster boy of the dot-com boom and he remains EBay’s chairman today.
However, the Silicon Valley founder turned media philanthropist might not have decided on his new venture, had he succeeded in buying the Washington Post earlier this year.
The paper was instead sold for US$250 million to another wealthy technology plutocrat, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.
Instead, Omidyar is said to have been convinced to launch a new independent outlet as his concerns over press freedom grew. From his home in Hawaii earlier this month, he decided to join forces with Greenwald.
In a blogpost on his Web site, the philanthropist said that the new venture would cover “general interest news, with a core mission around supporting and empowering independent journalists across many sectors and beats. The team will build a media platform that elevates and supports these journalists and allows them to pursue the truth in their fields. This doesn’t just mean investigative reporting, but all news.”
The move comes five months after the Guardian first began revealing details about the extent of secret government spy programs in the US and the UK, obtained from documents disclosed to Greenwald by Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor.
Greenwald announced on Tuesday that he was to leave the Guardian to form the new outlet, which he described as a “once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity.”
He added that he would “create the entire journalism unit from the ground up by recruiting the journalists and editors who share the same journalistic ethos and shaping the whole thing ... in the image of the journalism I respect most.”
Greenwald will work alongside two of the investigative journalists at the heart of the NSA story, Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who has played an instrumental role in the revelations.
Such a grouping are likely to become important actors in any ongoing reporting of the Snowden files and the backing of Omidyar will give the new venture financial muscle.