Friday, February 03, 2006


Tim Redmond of the San Francisco Bay Guardian has issues about Craig Newmark, the "Craig" in "Craigslist." (H/T to Mediabistro)

His beef isn't that the guy put newspaper classifieds out of business. Craig figured out a way to do something the newspapers weren't doing. Time marches on. But here's what annoys him:

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.

Whether or not it's within Craig's ability or responsibility to do this, Craigslist has effectively made obsolete a job I held fourteen years ago. I used to typeset and layout the classified sections for a chain of weekly newspapers, including Our Town and the Manhattan Spirit. It provided me with a way to get up to speed on desktop publishing and perfect my skills as I morphed from a performer/word processing gypsy into a grownup with a day job.

A lot of young journalists were getting their big break there at the time: the NYT's Jim Rutenberg, Colin Miner, who's now a reporter for the New York Sun, and Faye Penn, who's now a features editor at New York Magazine.

And since the local weeklies were geared toward different areas in New York, they featured cover stories that the major dailies, and even major New York weeklies like the Village Voice and New York Observer were too general interest-oriented or too ideological to zone in on.

Craigslist is an indispensable part of my day, but there are some things it won't replace. But what will? Are the new crop of journalists getting their start on the Web? Where? And how do you find those sites, both as a reader and as a contributor? You can pick up Our Town or the Spirit in a metal box on the street, or sometimes in a store or the lobby of your building if you've got a building with a lobby. So what's the equivalent of that metal street box on the Web?

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