Craig Newmark, founder of the online classifieds site Craigslist, donated $20 million to the endowment of the graduate journalism school at the City University of New York (CUNY), which is changing its name to the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.
The school has focused on ways to instill more trust in journalism, including a program Newmark helped underwrite, the News Integrity Initiative, to which he gave $1.5 million, and which ultimately raised $14 million. The school will continue to pursue that initiative, as well as hire more faculty, and create new programs. The school says Newmark will not be involved in choosing how money is spent. A relatively new school, it can’t yet rely on donations from alumni.
This may seem like an ironic gift for a man who newspaper publishers once railed against as the destroyer of classified ads, a high-margin pillar in broadsheet and tabloid profits. Craigslist, founded in 1995, gained steam as the decade progressed, and a 2013 report in the journal Management Science estimated papers lost $5 billion to Craigslist between 2000 and 2007.
Newmark, however, has nourished an interest dating back a decade in better understanding the future of journalism, partly by funding investigations into that topic, and by underwriting non-profit reporting organizations and academic institutions and publications. In recent years, he has donated millions to investigative news site ProPublica, the Sunlight Foundation, the Columbia Journalism Review, Data & Society Research Institute, and others. In 2015, Newmark founded Craig Newmark Philanthropies, through which these gifts now flow.
His operational involvement with Craigslist has been minimal for many years, though he remains a key shareholder in the privately held firm. Some estimates suggest the site nets hundreds of millions of dollars a year from charging small fees for jobs, apartments, and a few other categories. Forbes lists him as a billionaire, but Newmark hasn’t commented precisely on his wealth.
Though Newmark has no direct history with CUNY, he does with Jeff Jarvis, a professor at and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the CUNY journalism school, as a key influence in guiding his understanding of the field. The center focuses on researching a viable financial future for journalism and training students in creating sustainable editorial ventures.
Newmark has credited Jarvis, a veteran journalist and editor, and at CUNY since 2005, with providing an education for him as newspapers faltered following the rise of Internet-based advertising and information sources. Jarvis, in a blog post today, knocked the idea to the side that Newmark deserved blame (or credit) for the shift in cost for short ads and its impact on the news business: “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.”