new media venture
Glenn Greenwald, who has published many of the most important scoops from the Edward Snowden leaks, is leaving The Guardian and setting up a new media venture with long-time journalist Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill from The Nation. The venture is being funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who has suggested that he’s prepared to invest more than $250 million in the new venture.
Neither Wikileaks or Snowden has revealed any truly surprising and damaging information. European and South American governments already knew that the U.S. was spying on them. China was certainly aware that U.S. agencies were trying to hack into its systems. On the other hand, Assange’s initial hope that he could change the world through publishing damaging information turned out to be completely unfounded. Wikileaks had a very frustrating time trying to get anyone except bloggers to pay attention to their early revelations. No one seemed to care.
The reason why is important. There’s too much information out there for most people to pay attention to, let alone figure out whether they believe it or not. Hence, most people rely on other institutions such as media organizations to tell them which information is worth caring about. Not only do people not pay much attention to information until it gets the stamp of approval from some authoritative institution, but this information is transformed, because everybody knows that everybody else is paying attention to it. It stops being mere information, and becomes knowledge — generally accepted facts that people use to build their understanding of what everybody knows about politics.
If this works, it is likely to change the relationship between information, knowledge and politics in some very interesting ways. Most obviously, it will make it even harder for the U.S. government to control the politics of leaks by pressuring newspapers not to publish stories that it thinks hurt the national interest.
If governments start to lose control over public knowledge in the information age, it won’t be because information “wants to be free.” It’ll be because of the creation of new ventures like this, that create public knowledge without adhering to the old rules about how government has a voice in deciding what gets published and what doesn’t.