On Sunday, The New York Times ran a lengthy ode to the journalistic investments of technological entrepreneurs, who have been pumping cash into both established and start-up journalism enterprises. As the Times pointed out, Pierre M. Omidyar, founder of eBay, pledged $250 million to back Glenn Greenwald’s new outlet in the aftermath of Greenwald’s work with National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. Jeff Bezos of Amazon famously spent $250 million to pick up the Washington Post. Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, invested in another news start-up called Ozy Media, along with other technological angel investors. The Times points out, “The list goes on, but the trend is clear: quality news has become, if not sexy, suddenly attractive to smart digital money.”
What’s the justification? The Times says that many of these investors want to shape the society around them, and think they can shape journalism in new ways: “It makes sense once you step back. For all its excesses, Silicon Valley has not been a place where ostentation creates social capital. While any tech reporter will tell you that the valley is far from media-friendly, the people in leadership there are close, ferocious consumers of news and have strong opinions about its current shortcomings.” Omidyar said, “Technologists have a view, perhaps inflated, that they can make the world better.”
David Carr of the Times writes, “A profound reset is under way. In more than a decade of covering the news end of the media business, I cannot think of a time of greater optimism or potential.”
There are business rationales to investment in journalistic enterprises, too, of course. As Carr says, “It does not take an M.B.A. to understand that the ability to capture consumers’ attention and move them around a platform, all the while extracting value, might come in handy in the media business.”
There are dangers, here, too. Many of those in the legacy media finding hope in the investments of technology entrepreneurs object when those in the conservative world try their hands at such investments — members of the Los Angeles Times staff nearly rebelled when conservative businessmen the Koch brothers were rumored to be in the running for the paper. But the next generation of journalism may well be on its way – more user-friendly, more socially-driven, and more adaptive to the climate of commerce.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).