I am proud that starting today, I am on the faculty of the newly rechristened Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. My friend Craig has given a generous gift to endow our J-school and we have named it in his honor. This represents an ideal alignment of missions — his and ours — in the service of trustworthy journalism in a public university.
I can’t remember exactly when I first met Craig. Like everyone I’ve ever witnessed meeting him, I was impressed to meet the Craig of craigslist. He is unique: a self-proclaimed nerd’s nerd, a model of humility, curiosity, goodwill, intelligence, humor, irony, and most of all generosity.
I love watching others puzzle over him. Many years ago at the rich and ritzy Foursquare business conference, I saw the CEO of a then-major media company throw up his arms in frustration at Craig’s refusal to clog his service with ads and maximize its revenue so he could sell out. “If I can’t interest you in a very large offer,” the exec asked, “can I interest you in a very small offer?”
Early in our school’s life, I invited Craig to speak to a room packed with our students, one of whom was as perplexed as that media executive. After Craig talked about supporting the philanthropic causes he cares so much about — trustworthy journalism and veterans among them — our admirably entrepreneurial student asked Craig why he would not maximize the value of the enterprise he founded, sell it for billions, and then donate the proceeds of the resulting endowment to the groups he wanted to support. Craig said that he saw himself a philanthropist of classified ads, leaving money in the pockets of untold real people in the market rather than in the pockets of the middlemen who controlled marketplaces for apartments, cars, jobs, pianos, whatever.
Yes, some have accused Craig of forestalling the business models of those middlemen: newspapers. I have always disagreed. Craig didn’t invent the internet. He created the most prominent example of what the internet could do in directly connecting buyers and sellers, reducing inefficiency in a market. Long ago, I argued to newspaper bosses that they would be displaced by their former customers — real estate agents, job agents, car dealers — who would use the net to go around them to bring their information directly to a more-perfect market. I was nearly beheaded as a heretic. But the moral of the story is clear: Craig Newmark and craigslist did not ruin newspapers or their business models but only showed them what the future would look like. So, no, Craig Newmark is not endowing our journalism school out of penance for what happened to newspapers. Craig Newmark is endowing our journalism school because — like us all — he is worried about the future of journalism, the fate of truth, and the health of the republic.
I never had the nerve to ask Craig for money. I never wanted to impose on my friendship with Craig. Instead, he generously invited me to ask. At another Foursquare conference — years after the one I recount above — he suggested I submit a proposal to him regarding trustworthy news. The result was the News Integrity Initiative, which enabled us to leverage Craig’s founding donation to raise more money from Facebook, the Ford Foundation, AppNexus, and others to support innovation in trustworthy news.
My dean and partner in innovation, Sarah Bartlett, was the one to suggest to Craig that he could make a profound impact on the future of our public journalism school. But I get ahead of myself. In February 2014, when Sarah was appointed dean, she asked me to schedule a tour of Silicon Valley — to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, LinkedIn (during which we hatched a new degree in Social Journalism) — and I added a stop in Craig’s favorite boite in San Francisco’s Haight. Craig and Sarah hit it off. So now I fast-forward to a meeting around Sarah’s small conference table in her office when Craig said he planned to give away the money he earned to support the causes he cares so much about. I watched as Sarah presented the opportunities of our school. Craig’s ears perked up. The rest is our future.
Craig’s gift enables so much for our small, wonderful J-school. It assures our independence and our ability to create new degrees, to hire innovative faculty, to support new programs, to recruit diverse students, to do nothing less than reinvent journalism. The great thing about an endowment such as this is that it comes with no conditions but provides resources we and our successors can take advantage of for years go come: forever.
Craig Newmark and his wife Eileen are friends I enjoy seeing at journalism conferences from Perugia to the Presidio and as neighbors in New York, where they’re now spending much of their time. I am grateful for Craig’s friendship and support, advice and counsel, wisdom and vision. I am grateful beyond words for Craig’s support of the institution I so dearly love, now named the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
Thank you, friend. Thank you, Craig.