There's a cliche that tech industry founders are bent on reckless growth all because their aggressive entrepreneurial tendencies weren't tempered by any college coursework in the humanities.
But Craig Newmark, who founded the eponymous Craigslist in 1995, learned some useful lessons in sociology even before he got to college.
"In the 1970s, my high school U.S. history and civics teacher taught us about the importance of a free press," Newmark said on the Digiday Podcast. "A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy."
Newmark has gone on to donate millions to journalistic programs and schools via Craig Newmark Philanthropies. His beneficiaries include the Poynter Institute, NPR, Consumer Reports and two journalism schools in New York City — those at Columbia and the City University of New York (the latter of which changed its name to The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York its name in his honor).
Dollars go a long way, but Newmark says he also helps generate conversations within his network, especially among "frenemies" working against the same big issues like cybersecurity or the online harassment of women (especially journalists).
Or, for that matter, disinformation (it's no coincidence that he created his philanthropic foundation in 2016 when Russia tampered with the U.S. Presidential election). Beyond supporting high quality news, Newmark has taken an active role against bogus political information, "particularly disinformation regarding voting by mail," Newmark said. "And so I'm working with people in journalism, people who are the experts in voting, I'm helping them fight back and to take the battle to the enemy."
Social media giants are partly to blame, according to Newmark, even as they've tightened their speech regulations and political policies in recent months. "The social media platform[s] know who the bad actors are. They know who the foreign adversaries are, they know who their domestic allies are," Newmark said. "They should take action against all of them."
But what about Newmark's own career, as the IBM programmer who went on to create a free digital version of the classifieds that ate into a traditional (and lucrative) preserve of local newspapers?
"Newspaper revenue [declined] starting in the early ’50s. It went down precipitously in 2008 and 2009 when the big guys started getting things done. And that's about it. I asked [economists] to show me what blip I could see due to Craigslist, and they couldn't show me one. I mean, my instincts tell me Craigslist must have had some effect, but the economists have not been able to show me one," Newmark said.