First Look Media Seeks 'Challenger' Brands' Support, Adds Another Business Hire

Hires Its Second Business-Side Executive, Vimeo's Gregg Bernard

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The Intercept, a First Look Media site

First Look Media, the news startup funded by billionaire eBay founder and Chairman Pierre Omidyar, has made some splashy editorial hires in recent weeks, including Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi and Gawker Editor John Cook, who promised "to find stories that pick fights and pick the right fights." The venture began with Glenn Greenwald, the blogger who worked closely with Edward Snowden.

What the organization hasn't delved into is its plans to support them financially.

The answer for First Look, thus far at least, is to sell sponsorships to "challenger brands," said Michael Rosen, First Look's chief revenue officer and the company's first business-side hire. First Look is a nonprofit, but it's entering a crowded field of news organizations, including digital startups like Ezra Klein's venture with Vox.com as well established players like The Atlantic and The Economist. It's doesn't seem like it's going to chase all their advertisers.

"Instead of going out and talking to everyone, we're talking to brands that share the same convictions around strong journalism and respect the transformative power of true stories," Mr. Rosen said. "Whether it's challenger brands, or brands that share the visions we have, this won't be the kind of site where every advertiser will be. We're looking for a limited number of folks who understand that and embrace it."

Challenger brands, according to Mr. Rosen, share three attributes: They're neither the No. 1 brands nor niche players; they are succeeding, not merely ambitious or arrogant; and they have "ambitions that exceed their conventional marketing resources, and they are prepared to accept the marketing implications of that gap."

"While we certainly will partner with number one brands in a market," he added in a follow-up email, "it's likely that challenger brands will also align with our current stated mission."

He declined to name specific brands First Look is speaking with.

First Look is a nonprofit news organization that Mr. Omidyar founded last October with the goal of introducing a flagship website in late 2014 to cover a range of topics, including politics, business, sports and entertainment. Its stated goal is "to pursue original, independent journalism that is deeply reported and researched, thoroughly fact checked, and beautifully told."

Mr. Omidyar has invested $50 million in the project, he has said, part of the $250 million he pledged to fund the organization.

Ahead of the flagship site's rollout, First Look has introduced The Intercept, a "digital magazine" where Mr. Greenwald and other reporters will continue to report on documents Mr. Snowden released about government spying. Mr. Cook is that site's editor in chief. It plans to roll out more of these digital magazines -- which are websites on a specific topic -- including one from Mr. Taibbi.

Mr. Rosen said he's in the early stages of meeting with brands and agencies about signing on as potential initial advertisers for the flagship site and other digital magazines. These digital properties will not carry "tons of banner ads," he added. "They will be integrated partnerships -- sponsorships." In other words, some form native advertising (though Mr. Rosen said, "I hesitate to say 'native'").

Gregg Bernard is First Look Media's new senior VP of business development.

The organization has also made its second hire on the business side: Gregg Bernard, who will be senior-VP of business development. Until 2013, he held the same title at Vimeo. His first day was Monday, and he is based in New York.

Mr. Bernard will partly focus on strategic partnerships around content syndication to build traffic to First Look's digital magazines and, later this year, its flagship site. "He's going to work with me to build the strategic direction and help to monetize the site," Mr. Rosen said.

First Look underscored the importance of revenue in a statement of editorial independence issued Monday. "Our organization, First Look Media, is a 501c3 nonprofit," the statement said. "While we will vigorously seek out revenues as a way to sustain our work, the not-for-profit structure ensures that our journalism comes first -- and that our writers have the freedom they need to pursue their reporting wherever it leads them."

Mr. Omidyar had earlier said First Look will include a separate technology company to help drive the newsroom and fuel profits for newsgathering. A First Look spokesman said it's still too early to tell how that relationship will work. Eventual profits from the tech company, Mr. Omidyar had said, "are committed to support First Look's mission of independent journalism."

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