Pierre Omidyar gets into the news biz

By Laurie Bennett

April 22, 2010 at 6:33am

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar isn’t the first billionaire to try his hand at online journalism.

But he’s one of the few who believes he can make a profit by charging readers.

Omidyar is launching a local news site called Honolulu Civil Beat, which will cost subscribers $20 a month.

The venture debuts just as Honolulu’s two longtime print publications - the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin, are expected to merge.

Star-Bulletin owner David Black hopes to complete his purchase of the larger Advertiser on Sunday. Although federal antitrust provisions require him to put the smaller paper on the market, Black says he doesn’t expect to find a buyer. The paper is losing $13.3 million a year, he says.

Pierre Omidyar
Pierre Omidyar

Civil Beat, meanwhile, has published a few introductory pages and promises a full launch on May 4.

Omidyar’s welcome column (you need to be a subscriber to read the full text) describes the project as “a new civic square for Hawaii.”

Editor John Temple, former editor and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, promises a news service with lots of interactivity, describing staff members as “reporter-hosts.”

In recent years, Omidyar has focused much of his attention on philanthropic efforts at the Omidyar Network.

Civil Beat, however, is not intended as a charity for Hawaiian news junkies.

“If it’s valuable, they’ll pay,”Omidyar told NPR. “And if it’s not valuable they won’t pay and we’ll learn from the fact that they’re not paying.”

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