Harvard: Beggar at the feast

Harvard: Beggar at the feast

: Last night after the opening event at Berkman’s internet-and-society confab, I crashed the official dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club, where you’ll find the smartest cocktail chatter anywhere.

I was delighted to find myself sitting next to Craig Newmark, customer service representative and founder of Craig’s List. I saw Craig at Web 2.0 and so when I ran into him in the lobby of Time Inc. by the slimmest of coincidences a few weeks ago, I knew he looked familar and so I gave him that don’t-we-know-each-other look. He shrugged it off and said, “I run a web site.” Oh, yes, that web site, I said; you’re Craig. He shrugged again: Yup.

Merrill Brown told me a great story a day later about being with Craig when they saw they were in the same building as a New York real estate agent Craig has had to deal with. Craig just went into their offices: “I’m Craig.” People got excited and got their cameras out to take pictures with the most unassuming celebrity in America. And then Criag straightened them out.

Last night, I got to say to Craig what I often say about him: He is disrupting the news business more than any other person. And that’s not a bad thing, I’m quick to add. The newspaper business is seeing a lot of classified revenue shift to Monster and Craig’s List and other new marketplaces (which I contend will, in turn, be replaced by the unmarketplace, the distributed market, but that’s a subject for another dinner). And that is hard to take, of course. But whenever any industry goes through disruption for any reason, good things can come out of it. As Kathleen Matthews said about politics last night, when you face change, you can try not to or you can blow it up (she said it better than that).

Craig talked about the desire to get and support news he trusts.

That inspired a great conversation with Jay Rosen on one side of us and Rebecca MacKinnon on the other. Jay said that there should be a marketplace where citizens can buy the journalism they want to see — what Chris Albritton did getting his audience to underwrite his trips to Iraq brought to a larger scale. Jay said that in the earliest days of journalism, rich people hired correspondents to go to far away lands and tell them what they needed to know about, oh, camel futures. Of course, that was private news. This new way is about public news. It is about the public getting the news it wants thanks to a direct way join up with others to support it.

What stories would you underwrite?

: See Steve Rubel’s speculation about this.