SF Weekly profiles Criag Newmark and his classifieds site.
Almost by accident, Newmark built one of the Internet’s most successful sites, creating a free marketplace for millions that continues to grow around the country and the world. Among the unintended consequences of Craigslist’s growth, though, is that it’s sucking away significant dollars in classified advertisements from already-struggling newspapers. Bay Area papers alone forfeit at least $50 million annually to Craigslist, losses that contribute to layoffs of dozens of reporters. As fearful publishers cut newsroom jobs, inferior news coverage is the likely outcome. Craigslist’s devoted fans are unknowingly exchanging one public service for another — trading away the quality of their news for a cheaper way to find an apartment. At the same time, Craigslist’s executives won’t disclose the amount of money they’re pulling in.
Newmark now suffers from a moral dilemma: He feels guilty about helping cause job losses and poorer-quality papers, but he’s excited to accelerate the decline of the big, bad mainstream media. He seems determined to remedy his sins against the media by changing it for the better, lending his name and dollars to a citizen journalism movement populated by J-school professors, idealistic techno-futurists, and so-called citizen journalists. A self-described news dilettante, Newmark believes his recent journalism-related work could be more important than Craigslist. Citizen journalism, though, may not be enough to plug the news hole created by his site’s success. Newmark’s well-intentioned campaign to repair the institution he inadvertently injured could very well be in vain.