John Cook had fun as editor in chief of Gawker. For instance: When he wanted to commandeer a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack, he fired up a “Crackstarter” campaign that raised $200,000 for the cause. Publicity followed.
Now Cook is headed to the Intercept, the online “digital magazine” of First Look Media, a general-interest news site bankrolled by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and featuring the journalism of Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill. Will the Gawker topper be bringing such antics to the Omidyar venture?
“Obviously I expect the tolerance level of hi-jinks to be a little different,” Cook told the Erik Wemple Blog this afternoon. “Pierre is a serious person and he’s building a serious news organization, and I intend to represent and abide by that.”
Discussing the future at the Intercept, Cook sounded a lot like Greenwald-Poitras-Scahill, speaking about “aggressive, adversarial investigative” journalism and the need to challenge power — not to mention to never do what the New York Times did nearly a decade ago in acceding to the Bush administration’s demands to delay a key story about warrantless wiretapping for more than a year.
So they’re pretty much on the same page. But what happens when disputes arise? How does any editor tell Glenn Greenwald & Co. what to do, especially when they all spoke of the virtues of a horizontal management structure? Here’s how Cook answers that one: “Obviously Laura and Glenn and Jeremy’s names are on it and they’re the founders and they have a sort of sweat and name equity invested in it and they hired me because I’m simpatico with where they’re coming from and will work consultatively with them, but I’m the editor in chief,” says Cook.
Here’s Cook’s No. 1 challenge: At some point, The Intercept will run out of Snowden documents that warrant write-ups. What then? “That’s what I focused on when I started talking to them — imagining a site that didn’t have to do with Snowden stuff, building a site that will have people and stories that have their own merit,” says Cook. He’ll have to find a way to keep the documents coming, and he has a whole philosophy about public documents: Fire off FOIA requests nonstop and publish everything that comes back.
And he’s not worried about one thing: Resources. Omidyar’s net worth is some $8 billion. Cook didn’t even ask how long a runway was planned for First Look and the Intercept.
What attracted him to the opportunity was uniqueness. Many newsrooms, he says, have resources to do deep investigative reporting, and many have Gawker’s brand of adversarial, who-cares-about-legacy-media-conventions journalism. There aren’t many that have both of those credentials, says Cook.
“Pierre has obviously committed the resources and wants to do this in a big way and I believe him,” says Cook.
If anyone expects Cook to moderate the Greenwald crew, well, that may not happen. He told Poynter a while back:
“I love Glenn Greenwald,” Cook continued, “but he’s basically keeping the same secrets the NSA was keeping” instead of “laying it all out there so people could look at it for themselves.”