Bill Keller the Latest to Shift From Legacy Media to Startup Venture

icD_OFBpLately, it’s looking like legacy publishers are having a difficult time hanging onto some of their most prized journalists.

Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian) and Ezra Klein (Washington Post) recently made big splashes in the news with their jumps away from “big media” cushions and pursuit of smaller ventures, and now Bill Keller of the New York Times is doing it.

Keller and the new criminal justice reporting project to which he’s transferring announced Feb. 9 that the Times alum would take the helm as editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project starting March 1.

“It’s a chance to build something from scratch, which I’ve never done before … and to use all the tools that digital technology offers journalists in terms of ways to investigate and to present on a subject that really matters personally,” Keller told Times reporter Ravi Somaiya.

The Marshall Project’s main objective is to use its (small, but) star team of veteran reporters and editors to uncover the greatest injustices of the American criminal justice system. The whole outfit, whose namesake is a tribute to Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, is not-for-profit as well as non-partisan, and The Marshall Project’s founder and publisher Neil Barsky (who also oversees the Columbia Journalism Review board) hopes the news operation’s coverage will lead to increased awareness and accountability when it comes to American courts and prisons.

Hoping to help correct a system it labels “troubled” through criminal justice content curation, original storytelling, short documentary videos, infographics and editorial columns, The Marshall Project has one ultimate goal: to ensure that criminal justice reform winds up a heavy part of the discussion surrounding the 2016 presidential election.

Keller’s move marks a shift in the role of traditional journalism outlets as an exclusive means to reporting on material with award-winning potential. As The Marshall Project notes, two nonprofit all-online news operations, ProPublica and Inside Climate News, have been awarded Pulitzer prizes. 

In the case of all three men, they’re pursuing news careers that are nontraditional in nature, with digital cornerstones and niche topics — for Greenwald, it’s NSA intel leaked by Edward Snowden, for Klein, it’s the desire to provide much-needed explanation and context to widely-reported news stories, and for Keller, it’s about seeking justice through his reporting.

What household name will move outside the bounds of the journalism establishment next and find his or her footing in a niche experiment?

And, referring to Klein, specifically, does micro-branding individual journalists just groom them to leave and start something of their own? Does it matter?