Listening Post

From internet giants to media tycoons

Why are dot-com billionaires pumping money into the news business, an industry that has suffered in the internet era?

Last updated: 14 Dec 2013 10:43
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Newspapers around the world have lost advertising and readers to the web while TV channels have to adapt to a viewership that is moving off the couch and online and breaking news has become ever more frenetic in the world of Twitter and Google news.

But this year, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and eBay's Pierre Omidyar became the first dot-com businessmen to invest significantly in the media.

Of course, if you put billions of dollars into a news organisation, you expect it to reflect some of your values – we've seen that from previous proprietors like Rupert Murdoch, and I think with Jeff Bezos and with Pierre Omidyar, they have quite different perspectives. Both of them are highly connected, both of them are very powerful, because of their powerful other businesses.

Charlie Beckett, a media scholar at the London School of Economics

Bezos bought out the Washington Post in August this year; Omidyar went a step further, announcing that he was starting a brand new media group with a band of investigative journalists - Glenn Greenwald of the NSA revelations being one of them.

"If people with billions of dollars are going to come riding to the rescue, chances are they are coming from the internet," explains Jeff Bercovici, the Forbes Media & Tech reporter.

"This Silicon Valley world where the mindset is where you look at a system that is not working, you see that as an opportunity [to] create something that is more efficient and build a big business there. Media is a kind of the perfect opportunity."

If you are a billionaire who wants to save journalism, there are two ways you could do it – there is the Bezos way: buy an existing news outlet and give it a 21st century makeover.

And then there is the route taken by Pierre Omidyar - who made a failed bid for the Washington Post and then decided to invest his money in a team of hard charging investigative reporters.

The Omidyar project has grown in the months since he and Greenwald announced their plans - but the actual details of those plans have been available only piecemeal - blog updates and brief interviews by Omidyar and some of the journalists collaborating with him.

But there is a prototype of sorts that Omidyar has already created. It is three years old and it is in Hawaii.

"Pierre really believes in hardcore journalism; that is really what his interests are. Knowing that really gives the reporters carte blanche as ... into doing whatever they feel like they need to do, to keep the public informed," says Gene Park, the engagement editor for Honolulu Civil Beat.

"Certainly, the Civil Beat has been a testing bed for what he wants to do with investigative journalism."

It is an exciting twist in a story that seemed to have only one sad ending - the bankruptcy of the mainstream media and the death of the news business as we know it.

Listening Post's Meenakshi Ravi looks into the influx of tech money into the media world and examines why the news will never be the same again.

Listening Post  can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.  

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