Craiglist founder warns of journalism’s demise
The fragmentation of traditional media markets is accelerating.
In Greensboro it began 15 years ago with a pugnacious right-slanted weekly, The Rhinoceros Times, making a grab for a segment of the daily News & Record’s readership, and in more recent years has picked up momentum with the development of a nationally noted blogging community, the launch of citizen journalism forum Greensboro101.com, the publication of alternative weekly YES! Weekly, and in April, the arrival of Craigslist.org.
The city-specific online bulletin board has reportedly cost newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area, where it was founded, millions of dollars in lost classified advertising revenue.
Now the founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark, says he would like to play a part in reshaping the editorial side of journalism. The 52-year old Newmark, who describes his job at Craigslist as ‘“customer service rep,’” said he hasn’t yet decided whether to use his website to facilitate open source reporting or to merely cheer the new citizen journalism from the sidelines. But either way he insisted traditional journalism is in for some economic shocks.
‘“I think something big is happening that will change the news industry and maybe the way we do politics,’” he told YES Weekly! on May 12. ‘“Right now, I’m in an educational phase. I’m listening to people who really know this stuff. Maybe all I’ll end up doing is cheerleading. Maybe Craigslist will do something and maybe it won’t.’”
Newmark said he would like to see organizations like factcheck.org train hundreds of fact checkers to correct sloppy journalism in professional newsrooms. He’d also like to see volunteer research teams set up that could produce independent investigative journalism, which he sees as being in decline in traditional newsrooms.
In recent months, Newmark has characterized traditional journalism as an industry that could go the way of textiles or steel because of technological changes and questions about its credibility.
‘“I just want to remind everyone that people’s jobs are involved, writers, editors, delivery people, PR people, and more,’” he wrote in a Feb. 26 blog entry. ‘“When an industry goes through a major shift, sometimes people lose jobs. I don’t have anything smart to suggest, except that news professionals start looking hard at the blogging phenomenon and try to get ready.’”
Craigslist’s successful competition for advertising revenue has been the object of criticism from at least one newspaper columnists, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Alan T. Saracevic, who wrote on April 17: ‘“Historically, the money spent on such ads helped subsidize a reporting mechanism that served as society’s fourth estate. It was commonly known as a newspaper.
‘“If the revenue newspapers once subsisted on disappears, he who taketh the lunch money away shall also provide the watchdog function. And complaining about lousy school systems on your blog won’t cut it. Nor will running the AP wire on your ‘news’ page.’”
Newmark said May 12 that traditional journalism’s survival depends more on whether it can reestablish trust with its audience than whether it can retain advertising revenue.
‘“The big issue has to do with trust,’” he said. ‘“Big stories aren’t being covered, or there’s no follow-through. Newspapers haven’t followed through with the White House trust scandals or the Tom Delay scandals. The only news show that follows through is ‘“The Daily Show’”; the only news site that follows through is OhMyNews out of [South] Korea.
‘“As the way of getting news evolves, we’ve got to be involved and we’ve got to stand up for the journalists we believe in,’” he added.
A clarification from our last dispatch on Craigslist (‘“National online bulletin board threatens to steal ad revenue,’” May 11): the website currently charges for help wanted postings in only three cities. All other postings are free. Prospective employers are charged $75 per ad in San Francisco, where Craigslist was founded 10 years ago, and $25 per ad in New York and Los Angeles, where the site was established in the past five years. In Greensboro and more than 100 other cities where Craigslist has set up sites, all postings are free.
That may change, but Newmark insisted he is more interested in enhancing trust among users of the sites than in turning a profit.
‘“We’re engaged in a public discussion about charging apartment brokers for rental listings in New York,’” he said. ‘“Odd as it sounds, the brokers have asked us to charge them to improve the quality of the list. Even the less ethical brokers want to create a level playing field where everyone will play by the rules and do the right thing.’”
Newmark said he has taken note of the thriving blogging community in Greensboro. He is also a big fan of a local science fiction writer, one of whose books he’d just finished the day before.
‘“I’ve been influenced by Orson Scott Card,’” he said. ‘“I’m impressed by the scope and humanity of his vision. He ain’t bad.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org