eBay founder's online Hawaii news service launches

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A news website being set up in Hawaii by the founder of eBay went online on Wednesday with plans to charge a monthly fee for the service.

CivilBeat.com, the website of the new media venture, Honolulu Civil Beat, launched in test mode to accept feedback from potential users and will begin publishing news articles on May 4, editor John Temple said in a blog post.

Honolulu Civil Beat is the brainchild of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, a French-born US entrepreneur and philanthropist who now lives in Hawaii.

Omidyar, who became a billionaire when eBay went public, said he envisions Civil Beat as a "new civic square for Hawaii."

"For us, it's about building a place where we can all learn about and better understand our home, the challenges we face, and debate and discover ideas and strategies for moving forward," he said in a separate blog entry.

"But building a new civic square isn't something any of us has done before," Omidyar said. "One thing we're pretty sure about, however, is that we have to start with a different kind of news service."

Temple, the former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, a Denver newspaper which shut down in February 2009, said Civil Beat will be "taking a different approach to journalism."

"You might have noticed that we've opened the doors to this new civic square without putting up any news articles," Temple said. "That's different - a news service without news, at least initially.

"It's intentional. We want to begin by talking with you about what we're doing, to hear what you want from us and what you think we should be asking.

"We believe conversation and civil debate with our reporter-hosts and with other members is central to what will make Civil Beat valuable," he said.

"At the heart of our service are pages dedicated to providing you context and understanding about the issues you need to know about."

Civil Beat is offering a 4.99-dollar "membership" for the first month for full access to the service, rising to 19.99 dollars a month after the first month.

Civil Beat is the latest US media outlet to experiment with putting some of its content behind a "pay wall," a move being contemplated by a number of other magazines and newspapers seeking ways to make money in the digital age.