Playing the Walmart card

Tim Redmond of the SF Guardian takes jealous whining about the success of Craigslist up a notch, labeling Craig a digital Walmart. Them’s fightin’ words. [Full disclosure: Craig Newmark is a personal investor in the news startup I’m working on and he has become a friend.]

Redmond is careful to say that it’s OK for Craigslist to make money, but then he complains about the service going into other, smaller markets, where it is not local (as it is in San Francisco):

But Craig still annoys me, and here’s why:

Over and over in his brief speech, he talked about “building community.” He acted as if Craigslist was some sort of nonprofit with lofty goals and he a humble servant of the people who wants only to help improve human communications.

The problem with that is simple: When Craig comes to town (and he’s coming to just about every town in the nation soon), the existing community institutions – say, the locally owned weekly newspaper – have a very hard time competing. In many ways, he’s like a Wal-Mart – yeah, landlords get cheaper real estate ads, and consumers find some bargains, but the money all goes out of town. And he puts nothing back into the community: He doesn’t, for example, hire reporters or serve as a community watchdog.

Here’s the question I asked him:

How, exactly, does a San Francisco outfit moving into, say, Burlington, Vt. and threatening to eviscerate the local alternative newspaper, help build community? If he’s such an altruist, why does he have to keep expanding like a typical predatory chain? We all get the need for online ads and community sites now; why not let the folks in Burlington (or wherever) build their own? Why not (gasp) help them, instead of using his clout to hurt them?

What a pathetic fit of whining. Let’s get past the cant that big and national and chain are all bad things to be — predatory, even; it’s the SF Guardian, after all.

I don’t understand Redmond’s attempts to mock Craigslist — and all the people using it — as community. Creating a means and a place where people can meet for social or business purposes does, indeed, build community; that’s what the internet is about: not just content, but connections.

I’m also scratching my head over Redmond’s notion that “local” has to be better, as if all the people using Craiglist — or Flickr or Blogger or or Myspace or Meetup — aren’t themselves local. It’s the people that make it local, not the server.

Redmond himself confesses the real problem here when he says of Craig: “The guy figured out how to do something that the newspapers weren’t doing, and they were way too late in responding, and he got their money, and that’s how capitalism works.”

Right. Why wasn’t that local paper — alternative or not — that Redmond wants to protect doing what Craiglist was doing … long ago? Let’s go look at Vermont’s alternative paper, Seven Days, which today is asking its readers to “send us your sex secrets.” Well, I suppose that could build community, one birth at a time. I see them charging people to listen to personals on voicemail — a model that was outmoded 10 years ago. I see them charging not insignificant rates for most classified categories. I don’t see any open exchange on their site, allowing the community to meet and share, not even any forums or community-run blogs. Nothing stopped them from building that simple functionality years ago. Nothing stops any newspaper from doing that. But even alternative papers — allegedly, papers of the people — can’t stand to hand over control to the public, the way Craigslist does. And they all wish this internet thing would stop ruining their businesses. But Craigslist is not the enemy. Neither is Monster, which also took away classified revenue from papers. And, in fact, I’ve long argued that Craigslist and Monster, et al, will, in turn, be overtaken by distributed models that no longer require us to use centralized marketplaces.

No, the problem is that the internet kills middlemen and newspapers are middlemen, in terms of commerce, news, and community. The internet enables direct connections. At every presentation I give to media companies today, I include this simple quote from Craig himself: “Get out of the way.” That’s what he does: He creates functionality and lets people use it as they wish. Media was in the business of getting in the way. But no more.

So I’ll throw the challenge back to Redmond: Having learned your lessons in San Francisco, where Craigslist built the functionality and community you should have built yourself, what do you advise Vermont’s Seven Days? If you care about them so much, why don’t you help them?

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  • Well, Jeff…I’m not totally sure it’s whining.

    Living out in the Middle Of Nowhere Massachusetts, not too far from Burlington, VT, there honestly doesn’t seem to be much value in bringing Craigslist out here, and a small possibility that it could damage the local economy in a couple of ways….

    there still exists a massive digital divide between those who can afford computers and those who can’t–not only that, there’s a divide between those who use computers at work exclusively and those who are addicted. Living where the population is predominantly poor and working-class with only pockets of middle class, I talk with lots of people who neither own computers nor sit for hours at a time in the evening surfing for information. Does a single mother with three kids trying to support them on a $25, 000 a year salary, when she needs to change jobs, really have the time to go and find a computer and then find Cragislist? In all honesty, no–and esp. if she doesn’t already know about Craigslist.

    While the efforts of Craigslist are great in densely populated urban areas where newspapers are often papers-of-record, Craigslist is vital for creating and maintaining community…but out here, where you can find just what you need in the local paper (and the local paper’s on-line subsidiary) what’s the point of Craigslist?

    Also, your example of a local paper gone to pot is not a good one. Check out the Chicopee Reminder On Line which seems to be doing ok on reporting local stuff…even if its ads aren’t the greatest (we have for that)

  • to rephrase that last paragraph: not all local papers have gone the route of the one you suggest, and the Chicopee Remainder is one of them. We also have 15 local papers put out by Turley Publications which are serving a purpose in our communities.

  • Mumblix Grumph

    I love Craigslist. I’ve bought a lot of great stuff through it.
    I’ve bought nothing from a newspaper ad in years.

    Say, how’s that “I Hate Bush!” stragegy workin’ for ya, Pinch?

    Die, print media, die.

  • Right of Center

    Can’t have it both ways, it seems to me. I think his argument holds water if you favor regulation to make compaines “good citizens” (or somesuch pablum).

    Personally I don’t think there is anything wrong with Craig’s list OR Walmart running their businesses as they see fit.

    But if the “good mindedness” of progressivism must be enforced in some fashion (via laws or shame) then he has a point.

  • Hey Tish do you have any numbers on this great digital divide? Are these all homes without TV, video games, cell phones, etc.

    Everytime I’ve upgraded I’ve tried to give away my old computers. Couldn’t somebody arrange a transfer from one side of the divide to the other?

    On topic: Local media needs to stop whining and reengineer their local business model to fit the 21st century. It’s working with local TV and local radio albeit in just a few adventurous media markets. And a couple of newspapers are making plans for a shift.

  • Marina Architect

    Tim Redmond makes a valid point for discussion that has merit.

    Having said that, whoever offers the superior product/service gets my business. Loyalty to local markets who are stagnant and lack vision is not the way to go.

    If Craiglist wanted to offer share or portion of his proceeds for local activities/investments that would be the true hippy feel good approach. Once you taste money though, those ambitions fade regret ably for most but not all. Non-profits and open source funding is the way to go for tech entrepreneurs who continue to expand and offer a solid service like Craigslist.

    By the way, Craigslist could use a mild service update and added functionality.

    Jeff, your a great editor but don’t fall into becoming a partisan hack.

  • Bravo!

    Sure, we can morn the newspapers. But, they built their casket by not growing with the changing needs of their readers.

    Newspapers have had a loooooong ten years plus to figure this out. You launched New Jersey Online – you raged against the machine – the machine (newspaper owners, just to help out here) have been totally asleep at their wheel and laughing all the way to the bank. Until now.

    Maybe the next step is to see how the “community” can help make Craig’s list work harder for them.

  • Wise One

    Business literature tells us that distance is dead and the world is flat. There is no local or foreign on the web.

    Small and big papers should innovate. Be creative. Be interesting.

    As Kipling said “….but bitter pluck of pain and fear that makes creation think.”

    Let them know that they are in a horse race.

  • Nice page

  • Willard

    I think Tim’s issue here (reading the *entire* article) is simply this — Craig’s a businessman, and Craigslist is a business – drop the precious, pious act.

    Further (and I *hate* the SFBG, BTW), Tim’s not even complaining about the competition — he’s complaining about the ‘tude. And, jeez, doesn’t he have a point there!

    Craigslist is *not* open – it’s a walled garden with a wall well tended and defended by Craig, and I love using it — but it’s a proprietary, closed system, and Craig is building it by subsidizing his paid listing with a lot of free ones — dumping, we’d call it if this was China and steel exports. It’s hardly altruism, no matter how it’s candy coated with community.

    And, again, that’s capitialism — great stuff.

    But Tim’s not off base in his annoyance around the “more-community-than-thou” attitude. I predict that this will not be the last rock thwon at St. Craig the Divine, and that the gods have the same fondness for hubris that they always do…

  • JSinger

    It seems to me that pretty much your entire defense of Craigslist applies equally to Wal-Mart. You can dismiss his criticisms of Craigslist (that Wal-Mart = Evil is so self-evident that San Franciscans don’t require any elaboration, apparently) but I don’t get your objection to his analogy.

  • Tish,

    You are worried about a “small possibility that it could damage the local economy….”?

    Were your ancestors also worried about the car and how it would damage the horse and buggy industry?

    Since you are “Living out in the Middle Of Nowhere Massachusetts”, I will give you a local story of “value” added by Craigslist.

    My mother, is a high school teacher in the middle of “Nowhere Massachusetts”. She needed to hire a teacher last year but couldn’t get the school to give her even $50 for newspaper advertising. I walked her over to the computer and put an ad on Craigslist for her. She hired a teacher later that week who lived very far away and wouldn’t have even seen the ad in a local “Nowhere Massachusetts” newspaper.

    When I lived in North Carolina, I think I read that the state spends $1 million a year on newspaper adds to hire teachers. And that is just teachers. Imagine the cost savings that local governments and local businesses can achieve.

    I use Craigslist to rent my apartments, buy and sell stuff, and help others find jobs, movers, or part-time work.

    Craigslist is an inherently benevolent force…..killing off newspapers is just a too-good-to-be-true bonus.

  • Scott Suttell

    Papers have been slow to innovate because innovation costs money. Many investors in traditional media have not wanted, even in the short term, to cut into the industry’s very high profit margins. It’s shortsighted, obviously, because as a result, we’re losing market share that we might never recapture.

  • TomTomTommy

    As a long-time newspaperman, I have to admit that it’s great fun to watch my corporate overlords getting kicked around by the blogsphere. If it weren’t for their insistence on 30 percent profit margins, the big chains would have been better positioned to deal with this current technological revolution.

    However, I am left to question the rosy outlook being proferred by the newspaper haters. It’s one thing to kick the corpse of the east coast media elites, but what happens when the local paper stops covering the zoning boards, city councils, school boards and other boring aspects of community life? Even if you never pick up a newspaper, you still benefit from the watchdog role the newspaper plays.

    Under the current economic model, the advertisers pay for this coverage and the community at large reaps the benefits. Does this job now fall to the blogosphere? Is Craiglist going to hire someone to attend city council meetings?

    I have no doubt that the big important issues of the day will always be covered, even in the post-newspaper era. But I worry that the unglamorous minutaie of daily life will be ignored, to the peril of the citizens who don’t have time to keep an eye on the vast bureaucratic machinery of civic life.

  • BW

    I think Craig’s words might be getting a bit twisted around here. “He acted as if Craigslist was some sort of nonprofit with lofty goals and he a humble servant of the people who wants only to help improve human communications.” Well that’s a fine interpretation and all, but that’s a lot to read into it. You can’t build community if you’re making any money off it? Um, the newspapers don’t take ads for free do they?

    I think the problem here is that it sounds a lot like Redmond is saying “don’t mess with the newspapers and what they’ve established.” And, btw, the money doesn’t “all go out of town.” Maybe some does, but when I bought a monitor from someone off Craigslist last year, he wasn’t from out of town…

    The internet’s been around a looooong time now. Perhaps around 1998 a Burlington newspaper should have thought about building a simple site like Craigslist. Hell, give me a couple weeks and a PC, and I could get one up for them.

    It’s this attitude: “We all get the need for online ads and community sites now;” that gets me. Why “now” ? We’re not talking rocket science, we’re talking Craigslist. The guy didn’t roll over small businesses with millions of corporate dollars; he built a friggin simple website. Anyone in any local area could have done that years ago. It just screams “ohh we’re way behind, please help us make more money.”

  • Hey, I’m a staff writer for Seven Days newspaper in Burlington, Vermont. I generally agree with what you’re saying about alt. weeklies. They haven’t been very quick to adapt technologies that create online communities. I even agree that Tim Redmond — brilliant, amazing reporter that he is — is wrong about the way he portrays Craig. Basically, I’m on your side here.

    But what you said about Seven Days just isn’t true. I guess you didn’t look closely enough at our website. We have a tag on top that says 7D blogs. If you click on it, you’ll see that we have two staff blogs, both of which are promoted on our website and in the paper, and both of which are open to comments.

    I’ve been working hard to implement interactive online features at the paper (in addition to writing several stories each week). I’m really proud of my blog, 802 Online. Over the past year, I’ve compiled a list of about 130 Vermont blogs, and it’s growing all the time. I read each of them once a week or so, and point my readers to them via links whenever they say something I think is worth reading. I get a little more than 100 hits a day, which I think is not bad considering that my niche is really pretty small.

    I also select a post from a Vermont blog each week that appears in a column on the letters to the editor page in the print edition of our paper. This week, I picked a post by a very tiny neighborhood blog that probably very few people have ever read. Thanks to my column, that blogger got to put his work in front of 70,000+ readers this week. That’s not insignificant in this state, population just over 600,000.

    And my blog is absolutely open to critical discussions about the paper. Just last week, our art director and web master, Don Eggert, was featured on the AAN website. I linked to it, and the post generated a bunch of comments about our blinking web ads. Both Don and I chimed in on the site to respond to comments, and Don even removed some of the ads because of it.

    And my blog *does* create community. Last fall, I hosted a Vermont blogger meetup that drew more than 30 people of all ages and political persuasions who got together to talk about geeky tech stuff, and the good old Green Mountain state.

    Honestly, all things considered, I think Seven Days is leading the way in Vermont when it comes to online community building (at least among newspapers). (That’s kinda sad, really, considering how much more I wish we could all be doing…) Some other Vermont papers have added interactive features, but literally no one else reports on the emerging blogging community the way I do.

    And another thing… have you read the sex secrets survey? It turned out great. People *did* respond, and features like that *do* create community.

    So, thanks for the insightful words about Craig and alt. weeklies, but please reconsider what you said about Seven Days. We’ve still got a long ways to go, but we’re not as far behind as you make us seem.

    Thanks to one of my blog readers, who kindly pointed me to this post.

  • I should add that we’re open to whatever suggestions you have for us. Please email me or leave them on my blog. Thanks.

  • Right of Center

    “but what happens when the local paper stops covering the zoning boards, city councils, school boards and other boring aspects of community life?


  • As co-publisher and editor of Seven Days, let me add that Cathy Resmer — and twenty other workers here — gets a good salary, health insurance and maternity leave because we charge money for classifieds. If we’re behind Craig Newmark technologically, it’s because we’ve been busting our asses for ten years trying to put out an excellent newspaper that serves, and reflects, this community. That’s not “innovation?”

  • I live in Burlington, VT (full disclosure–I’m a friend of Cathy’s who commented above) and I’m a blogger and I want to strongly echo what Cathy said. A year and a half ago she began trying to build a “Vermont blogging community” modeled after a local blogging scene she’d seen and admired in the Greensboro/Chapel Hill, NC area. Prior to Cathy’s efforts there were Vermont bloggers, but none of us really knew each other–we were just out there in the ether. She has single-handedly built a thriving and growing blogging community in Vermont, and she has done so while being paid by Seven Days. So yes, Seven Days has built community through good use of technology. They can certainly do more, but Vermont tends to be behind the tech curve anyway so give them a little more time.

    That said, yeah, you’re right. Alt weeklies will have to adapt to the new technological reality. Craigslist is a good thing and is here to stay (though has barely been noticed in Burlington as far as I can tell in its first year here–only 173 job listings TOTAL as I type this). If good alt weeklies like Seven Days suffer from lost classified revenue, that’s an unfortunate consequence of an otherwise positive change. Very good railroad companies didn’t like all that telegraph wire going up either…

  • People:

    All this talk about electronic vs. print media, about the middleman, about direct communication misses the point. I get a lot of my daily news from blogs like DailyKos, which serve a powerful role in informing the public and building community. But the business model of DailyKos (which is, by the way, very successful) in no way involved driving others out of the market. Quite the opposite: Markos, like all the good bloggers, encourages people to start their own blogs. The bloggers link to each other, encourage each other, help build the entire blog market together.

    Craig isn’t new media or old media; he’s a chain business. That’s why he annoys me when he talks about community.

  • “What happens when the local paper stops covering the zoning boards, city councils, school boards and other boring aspects of community life?”

    What happens is that a blogger with a $300 digital video camera goes down to City Hall, spends a few hours a week taping the proceedings, and has a captive audience of thousands to himself. He opens up a discussion board and these events are covered as well as if not better than the local paper ever did. He tosses in some Google ads, maybe gets a banner ad, and some ads from local merchants who used to patronize the now-defuunct local paper and still need a local presence. With the paper kaput, he has enough ad dollars coming in his direction to quit his day job. In fact, several blogs are set up and form a loose cabal of local news coverage. They remain independently run, but eventually ‘network’ ads are striped across them. Voila the online paper.

    Our local paper, The Jersey Journal, features editorials written by a Cleveland Plain Dealer writer. She’s a fine writer, but she’s no more a local voice than – well, Craigslist. Far as I’m concerned the local papers can’t die soon enough.

  • Since when is doing for free what someone else charges for capitalism? In most markets, like Dallas, CL doesn’t charge nuthin’ for nuthin’. And it’s been long enough that you can’t call it an intro strategy.

    And Mr. Snitch, while I agree with you about the local papers, who is going to cover City Hall when that blogger is on vacation, or takes a night off to be with his kids?

    True, the old models don’t work, but I’m continually amazed by those who think that a bunch of volunteers are going to self-organize and consistently do ALL the hard work of covering the news.

    I thought I was populist as hell, but troubled at this utopian idea that the people are going to rise up and cover their own news. What that really means is that the information is only created by and available for the most active and engaged (dare I say affluent) citizens. From where I sit the vast majority of consumers are still couch sitters, and most citizen journalism experiments (like mine) have found that the CJ’s are like gold, but rare. People are much more likely to post a comment or a photo than to cover a council meeting. And even though I’ve got a team of volunteer journos who do such things (although we’re doing concerts and band interviews), it would never happen unless someone organized it.

    And, in the end, that organizer will be a capitalist.

  • Mike Orren–right on. You put words to what’s bugging me too. Papers won’t (and shouldn’t) go away, but they will have to adapt to the new reality. And let’s not forget while we argue back and forth via the internet, an awful lot of people still aren’t online at all, and most that are still don’t know an RSS feed from their asses. How will independent bloggers serve those folks?

    The issue here isn’t whether or not newspapers are useful or going the way of the dodo (that’s another argument) but whether or not newspapers have some special claim to classified revenue that is purer craigslist’s (not that CL gets ANY revenue from classifieds in small cities like Butrlington, VT). Answer: they don’t.

  • CHICAGO, Feb. 1 (UPI) — The surviving Baby Bells — Verizon, Bell South and AT&T/SBC — have disclosed that they may someday charge new fees to digital businesses, sites like Google and Yahoo!, that generate substantial traffic on the Internet. The explicit rationale? These firms are taking up too much bandwidth. But telecom experts tell United Press International’s The Web that they are worried that such a “toll road” could take a toll on the future growth of the Internet.

    “The mere mention of the words ‘toll road’ sound like government regulation is right behind,” Chris Consorte, president and chief executive officer of Integrated Direct LLC, an interactive online ad agency based in New York, told The Web. “The minute we’re talking about a bandwidth fee is the minute entrepreneurs begin to second-think great ideas and developing their businesses.” By Gene Koprowski

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  • JorgXMckie

    Personally, I see Tim Redmond’s complaint as a “I’m [or we’re] the communitarians around here! How dare you try to claim out mantle!” “Plus, you’re costing us money, which means our (reasonably) well-paid communitarian jobs.”

    His article reads like a holier-than-thou pissing match. As I remember my history, the first newspapers weren’t founded as communitarian ventures, and the few that were soon evolved into money-making businesses or died. They faced the same problems faced by craigslist or community bloggers — How do I gain enough money to live while continuing to do this?

    The closest thing to non-profit newspapers were ideological newspapers supported by true believers and with relatively low-paid staff. Sounds like some alt papers today. Most of them didn’t last all that long.

    Look, the wherewithal to keep body and soul together while doing whatever it is you do is always the problem. If you’re living off a resource, whether it is advertisers or true believers or a wealthy aunt, odds are someone else would like to live off that resource, too. As long as the particular competition is legal, I guess if you want to continue to exploit the resource maybe you just gotta talk them down.

    I don’t feel sorry for newspapers of any stripe who refuse to see the handwriting on the wall. The ones that figure it out will survive (perhaps with reduced profit margins) and the ones who don’t want. Unless you want to take the resource by force or the threat thereof, learn to compete.

    As for who will do whatever ‘services for the good of the community’ that newspapers now *claim* to do (I’ve read more than a few that print ‘all the news that fits’ their particular bias), well if it’s not important enough for someone to do it for free because they want to or for someone to make a profit doing it, why should I believe it needs being done?

    Lord, spare me from Lady Bountiful who wants to use MY money to do her good deeds.

  • Jeb

    If Craigslist didn’t do it, a ton of other startups would. I can’t say I really see Craig trying to hasten anything either, unlike Wal-mart forcing suppliers to manufacture in China. So carping about a reality that’s inevitable, is as silly as shooting the messenger.

  • Chris

    Here’s the thing about Craigslist. Suppose I want to buy a used pair of skis. If I go to a used sports equipment shop, then I have to pay whatever the old owner wanted for them, plus the store merchant’s cost of keeping them in stock and profit. If I directly connect with someone through craigslist then both me and the original seller make out better. This money does not disappear. Now, maybe I have more money for a night out, eating dinner or drinking, and support that local business instead. Since this money doesn’t go to hiring an extra reporter or whatnot and is diffuse, it is often ignored, but money that a consumer saves is not money lost.

  • Bill Fletcher

    I just emailed this response to Redmond:

    You’ve missed or deliberately underemphasized a fundamental point of basic economics. The money does not “all go out of town”. What money are you talking about? Most of Craigslist is free. The money NOT SPENT on paid advertising to local corporate entities DOES stay “in town”. It STAYS IN THE POCKETS of the people using Craigslist, instead of, say the Washington Post here in DC which used to have a monopoly on paid advertising (how about $75 bucks for an ad for an apartment to rent !). The $75 I save stays here in my pocket, and I spend it right here in DC on local food, clothes, entertainment, my car repairs and so on. What’s hard to understand about that?

    Your casual dismissal of consumers finding “some bargains” is factually wrong and reactionary. Consumers find A LOT of bargains on Craigslist and so they get to keep more of their own money that they have earned. People who want to take more of my money always invoke “community” to try to overcharge me. You think the stockholders of the Washington Post Corporation here in DC constitute a more worthy “community” than the real community of local people like me using CraigslistDC? Sorry, I’m not paying more money for an ad or for some information I want, just because somebody (like you) tells me I should support someone ELSE’S obsolete business model. The information posted on Craigslist is freely given and freely used by Craigslist consumers. Why should I pay through the nose in fealty to an obsolete business model ? The computer has freed everybody to do just this, and the old elites hate its’ effects.

    It’s not too different from EBay in that sense. I still remember the first $100 I saved buying an airline ticket on EBay. I had broken the overpricing power of the airlines to overcharge me. I felt great. I kept more of my money in my own pocket. That’s why Wal Mart works so well too. Consumers save an incredible amount of money. Have you personally ever been to a WalMart? Or do you just uncritically repeat the current urban line about what WalMart is supposedly doing to “the community”. Do you still or have you ever thought of yourself as a reporter? Why don’t you do some first hand, original, eyes-open reporting and actually GO to a WalMart before you use it as a metaphor in your next column? Ask the people there what THEY think about Wal Mart.

    And why should reporters be “hired” to serve as community watchdogs? What’s wrong with citizen bloggers and others in the local community of free people, not hired hands, doing their own reporting on what’s going on in their own community? We’re a free people. We can watchdog our own community.

  •         Paula Routly wrote:

    If we’re behind Craig Newmark technologically, it’s because we’ve been busting our asses for ten years trying to put out an excellent newspaper that serves, and reflects, this community. That’s not “innovation?”

            No, Ms. Routly, that is NOT innovation.  That’s what every local newspaper worth the name has been trying to do for the last two centuries.

            Ms. Routly, you’re in denial.  Innovation would be your own site would having copies of every classified in your paper. Innovation would be electronic-only ads, for those who can’t afford print. Innovation would be calling up Craig Newmark, and making a deal to partner with him.  All the classifieds on your print edition would be on Craigslist, and you and Craigslis would link to each other.  You’re not innovating, you’re whistling past the graveyard.  And this time, the monster is there, and is going to eat you if you don’t act soon.

    The House of Saud Must Be Destroyed!

  • And why should reporters be “hired” to serve as community watchdogs? What’s wrong with citizen bloggers and others in the local community of free people, not hired hands, doing their own reporting on what’s going on in their own community? We’re a free people. We can watchdog our own community.

    Sorry, but this is bunk. Look, I’m a paid reporter. Before I got my full-time job at Seven Days, I voluntarily wrote, edited and published (and distributed, and sold ads for) my small town newspaper. Everybody loved the paper. But nobody wanted to pay for it. So I gave it up. Because, let’s face it, I’m struggling just like everybody else and I didn’t want to spend 20 hours a week putting out a paper that was actually COSTING me money, not paying me.

    Right. So then I turned the paper into a citizen journalism site. Guess how many people use it, despite all of my efforts to promote it? A handful at best, and most of them are either city employees or social service workers. Believe me, I’ve tried to get people to cover city council meetings. They don’t want to do it. They’re busy trying to make a living and spend time with their families, just like you and me. When I’ve been able to get volunteers, they sometimes (and I do mean sometimes) do good work, but they’re not always reliable, and they often burn out. Yes, there are some amazing volunteers out there, but anyone who works with them will tell you that they are few and far between. If you have a reliable citizen journalist in your town — or more than one, even — you are very, very lucky.

    You’d never know it from that website, but our city is actually in the midst of a major downtown redevelopment that will completely transform the city. It is essentially being overseen by a small cabal of public officials. We desperately need watchdogs. Well, since I can’t find anybody to pay me to spend my time and energy being the official watchdog, I just have to do my best and cover what I can for the alt. weekly. Which, thankfully, does pay me.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t open up the process to citizen journalists. I think that media organizations should be doing more to give citizens who want to contribute to the public conversation a chance to do that. They’re doing some interesting work at the Greensboro News & Record in N.C. to make more room for citizen journalists, and I’ve been following them and other citizen journalist experiments closely.

    But the bottom line is that we need people whose job it is to cover the news, to reflect our communities back to us, to serve as watchdogs. That’s a valuable public service, and it’s not something you can just trust to volunteers or amateurs. If the amateurs are any good, at some point, they’ll deserve to get paid for all of their work. Which essentially makes them the same as me.

    We need to find a way to pay for journalism. Period. I say this as someone who did not study journalism in school, but stumbled into the profession after figuring out that it was a way I could both be creative and work for the public good. So why not try helping us instead of trying to hold us under? Because once we’re gone, you’re on your own. That sounds exciting now, but it will be harder than you think.

    If you’re still convinced that citizen media has all the answers, and newspapers are worthless, read Dan Gillmor’s letter to his Bayosphere community.

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  • I’m late to discover this terrific thread.

    As another staff writer at Seven Days — who has the OTHER blog — I’d like to throw in my two cents.

    I absolutely love the radical, digital enthusiasts who are so quick to proclaim the death of print media. They sound like folks who weren’t fortunate (or talented) enough to get published in real-world ink.

    Craigslist will undoubtedly cut into print advertising’s profitability. But paper will survive. Did eBay eradicate pawnshops?

    I personally don’t give a rat’s ass if everything goes digital, or if we scrawl on papyrus with our own feces. As long as someone pays me to critique, analyze and report on the arts, than I’m perfectly happy. I freelance for several online-only publications, and I enjoy that just fine. If it all goes away, I’ll become an undertaker or something. Now THERE’S job security.

    It would be a shame to completely turn the reporting reins over to “citizen journalists” and bloggers, however. First of all, there’s no way to vet them. Lord knows there’s enough “truthiness” in the world of conventional journalism as is.

    Secondly, I doubt that many community issues will get the same attention as they do in print. Zoning puts me to sleep, but it IS important to know about. Would such a subject even be covered by Joe Digital with no established connections and who isn’t getting paid?

    Lastly, a digital-only world would exclude the portion of humanity that doesn’t own computers. Sure, they can go to the library, but I think the concept smacks of elitism.

    Oh, and I’m a fan of quality WRITING. We all know that online scribes compose their thoughts differently. They have to — who’s gonna read 10 pages of digital text? Not this fella.

    I’m personally waiting for a cerebral cortex implant, so I can skip the paper vs. computron argument altogether.



  • Oh, and I’VE been to Wal-Mart. Business model and ethics aside, the place is undoubtedly one of Dante’s Infernal Rings. Hope you enjoy your shopping experience there. I’d rather fucking dumpster dive.

  • Miss Muffet

    Tish Grier –

    Well Tish, that was condescending. But I’m sure you were aiming for “enlightening” – right? Guess what? I live in the same backwater town you referenced with disdain. Small world. Heh. I have three kids in local schools. Most of the children in their classes have a computer at home. The parents can’t use the damn thing because their offspring are playing Runescape and IMing every blessed minute. We got phones and running water too. Perhaps you should hang with a younger crowd.

    The new Chicopee Library also has a whole bunch of nice computers for us poor folk with dirt smudged across our noses.

    I think it’s great we have Craigslist Western Mass. It sure won’t do anything to build our community but it will keep MassLive honest.

    Question, do we still call it MSM if our new local “Citizen Journalism” effort (currently empty because it just started, or because no one is interested…too busy, etc.) is owned by the Newhouses?

    Cathy Resmer, thanks. All good.

  • Ronnie in New Orleans

    So Wal Mart sucks. And Craig is a dirty capitalist. Bravo guys.

    As a New Orleans native and Katrina victim all I can say is thank God for Wal Mart, Craig’s list, Google, credit cards, and e-mail.

    After sitting on my roof for 8 hours and getting totally drenched by the 14 feet of water under me it was remarkably edifying to get to a Wal Mart in Baton Rouge, take out my credit card (most places did not want the wet money in my wallet) and buy some dry clothes. I could even change in the men’s room. Seemed there were no local haberdasheries open after 10pm, and most of the locals were price gouging anyway. Wal Mart had sales on essentials, and had them in stock. Guess there’s always time for dumpster diving.

    I used Craig’s list and Google to find apartments in BR, Lafayette, Seattle (for my son), St. Louis (another son), and Houston (yet another). Exactly how would the fabled print media have helped with that. By the time any print ad could be processed the places were gone.

    My kids used university web sites to get registered in other schools. I guess we could have sent regular mail, but since I am just now getting my redirected mail that might have been difficult.

    I’m 59 years old, and certainly no juvenile who has never read a paper, but I buy newspapers occasionally to protect the carpet of the car or to wipe the windshield. My wife likes the wedding announcements. Classified? You gotta be kidding.

    I can find out what’s going on in St. Bernard (my ruined parish) almost immediately by logging to I can read about it two days later in the BR Advocate (while spreading it out on the floor).

    So wake up, pull the head out of that dark place, and join the 21st century. Just because other people are now making the money you used to make does not mean society is jeopardized. Believe me, someone will go to the freaking zoning meeting. To quote my youngest, “You guys are just so OVER.”

    Thanks Wal Mart, and Craig, and Bill Gates, and AOL, and Steve jobs, and all of the other folks who were innovating for a better future while the old guard was sitting on their hands and collecting self generated awards for stories of the past. I cannot imagine what it would have been like without you. I would have had to read a newspaper; in a shelter.

    I’ll take the net, Craigs list, and the blogs. You take FEMA, the local daily, and the hard wired phone. Best of luck. You may find yourself dumpster diving.

  • casey

    In my first post I stated that I work for several online-only companies. And, as a dyed-in-the-wool misanthrope, I also do a great deal of shopping online.

    I’m also an avid blog reader. I’m 31, and am versed in both print and digital mediums. Lucky me.

    When a mag I write for recently went all digital, there was a huge uproar from readers and advertisers alike. some folks would rather flip through a mag in the shitter or on the subway than fire up an RSS feed on their portable.

    Call me a romantic, but I like spreading the Sunday Times across the bed and looking at all the pretty ads.

    Oh, and Gimmie Shelter!

  • Cathy

    We have a great way to pay for journalism… it’s called advertising.

    The problem is that radio, TV, newspaper, and magazines are creating ads and helping local clients like it was still 1975. Business is starving for accountable, results-driven promotions and open to any media who will put their money where their mouth is. Yes that’s hard risky work but you’ve avoided it for decades and now look where you are.

    BTW Casey could stand to exhibit a little modesty. He has (as Churchill said) a lot to be modest about.

  • Sorry premature mouse click. Let me add to that Casey “As do I.”

  • Casey put it far more eloquently than I did:

    Lastly, a digital-only world would exclude the portion of humanity that doesn’t own computers. Sure, they can go to the library, but I think the concept smacks of elitism.

    People could, if they wanted, in various regions, start groups that refurbished and donated computers–which is what it seems like laurence is suggesting. That would be a great way to get them to people who can’t afford them–because stuff like TV’s cellphones, etc. are, if we look at the prices, alot cheaper than even the cheapest computer. It would also cut down on stuff going to the landfill.

    Miss Muffett– first, let me apologize for the backwater comment you mentioned–and it was removed because it really wasn’t how I truly felt. Sitll, I used to work at The Mall for about 4 years, so I got a good taste of the local flava (and you should see my neigborhood). Perhaps we don’t know the same folks, but alot of the ones I know and met there (and live around here), didn’t have computers and really weren’t going to be able to afford them any time soon. Still there are lots of times when library computers aren’t all that convenient–even if they are top of the line. Imagine having to restrict your search time to 1/2 an hour because there are people standing around waiting for you to leave (that happened to me–so I know that scenario)

    And so we have Craigslist out here–but I’m not sure how “honest” it’s keeping and how effective it is. (I wonder if Craig would send some stats for comparison). Many of the job categories are empty.

    Still, if we telescope it out, it’s kind of funny that Jeff’s now helping Craig when he helped the parent company of (Conde Nast) a few years back. Kinda shows how fast things move out here.

  • oh, and Miss Muffett–the blog’s called “Snarkaholic.” Do you honestly think I’d mean something like that on a blog with that title??

  • Redmond seems to have some trouble with the concept of community.
    It’s not dozens of journalists, it’s tens of thousands of people who chose to use craigslist, on their own, without a gun pointed at their head.

  • Let me rephrase that: Since the blog is called “Snarkaholic,” can you honestly think I’d truthfully mean the “backwater” comment?? the statement was removed because it hit me that it would be seen just the way you saw it, and not any other way.

  • BW

    Tim Redmond – this is one of the points that I have an issue with-

    “Craig isn’t new media or old media; he’s a chain business. That’s why he annoys me when he talks about community.”

    But don’t you see that what Craigslist does is basically provide a forum for the community? He created something simple that lets users connect with each other and keep money in the community. That’s about it. They’re just not doing it through the newspaper. I mean, why write emails? The postal service does a fine job.

    Maybe I can’t understand because I’m someone that works on the internet as a programmer. We’re CONSTANTLY adapting. New language emerges? We have to know it. I didn’t learn the Java language in college, but that’s what I do now. I have a book in front of me right now that’ll teach me a new Java toolset. I learned HTML a while back; what happened when CSS came out? I picked up on that. I can’t relate to friends of mine that have been doing the same thing for the past 10 years, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to think people should be able to adapt.

  • Any news junkies out there

  • Modest is as modest does. I’ll be more modest when people stop narrowing my options in meda, culture and commerce. I don’t think I’m being any snarkier than those posters who proclaim print media dead.

    Wal-Mart doesn’t thrill me aesthetically, so I avoid it at all costs. The reasons for my distaste are legion, so I won’t bother to list them here. Suffice it to say, I don’t think the store elevates humanity one whit. I am glad, however, that Wal-Mart provided Ronnie from NOLA with necessary goods in his time of need. In a similar situation, I’d likely shop there, too. But it would take a major disaster.

    I don’t use Craigslist much, if at all. I just forget to, I guess. But I also rarely read the classifieds. Suppose I’m either satisfied or lazy. And I barely notice ads.

    I typically buy products for highly specific uses, and the rest of the time, I stick to the basics.

    Oh, and who wants to read ads on a Blackberry? Those are the options that an all-digital worrld might leave us. I’ll take options, thank you very muuch.

  • There is also this site that lets you create your own classifieds community by zip code.

  • automator

    “there’s no local or foreign on the web.”

    I very much disagree. Craigslist is the most local thing out there. With the exception of spam, the items being offered are put up there by people in your own city (or at least region). Ebay is very non-local; when you find a doo-dad you’d like to buy, it could be around the corner, or it could be thousands of miles away. The difference is evident in the goods found on either site. You’re unlikely in most Craigslist markets to find the salt shaker to match the pepper shaker you had bought as a pair in Omaha on your honeymoon back in ’63, but have since lost. You probably can on Ebay.

    “Sure, we can morn[sic] the newspapers. But, they built their casket by not growing with the changing needs of their readers.”

    Exactly. And in my experience over the past decade, most don’t want to change. That’s not entirely fair. They want to change, but with their own rules and at their own pace. As another poster wrote, newspapers are behind the tech curve because they’ve been trying to put out a great print edition. If that’s really the case, they should stay out of this online mess altogether. A newspaper that will not put full effort into developing the “next big thing” must accept that they’ll forever be behind. It won’t be their death; most magazines do fine without any classified advertising.

    I was there to see Craig do his spiel for the folks of AAN. I felt a little sorry for him. Not entirely sorry, I mean, the guy is a success story. But the editors, publishers and managers were making the most irrational, emotional attacks on him. One likened him to a B-52 Bomber. Nice. And classy, too. I kept my questions to the technical side, that which has some value for future development, and not bitching about the past.

  • THe idea that a blogger can simply go down and cover City Hall is utterly elitist. Covering the news properly is a full-time job, and there’s no way anyone who has a real job, one that requires an 8-hour workday, and has kids to take care of, can possibly be a volunteer blogger every day, watchdogging City Hall.

    I don’t care if reporters are covering news for the web or for print. The point is, you need paid people to do it, and you need institutions that can make enough money to pay them. That’s not the “middle man” — that’s reality.

    Let’s quit wasting time talking about old and new media or insulting me for working for a newspaper. The world will always need journalists. They may be working in different ways, for different media, but if we’re going to have a democracy, they will have to be there.

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  • Steve

    Are you fucking Craig? or is he you? Sounds like it!!