Craigslist Founder Gives $20 Million to CUNY Journalism School

Posted June 11, 2018 3:01 a.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Craig Newmark, the Craigslist entrepreneur who arguably forced the newspaper industry to change its business model after his website put a dent in the lucrative classified ads business, is giving $20 million to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

“In this time, when trustworthy news is under attack, somebody has to stand up,” Newmark said. “And the way you stand up these days is by putting your money where your mouth is, and that’s what I’ve done.”

As a result of the $20 million gift, which was announced Monday, the school will change its name this summer to the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. The donation, to be made through Craig Newmark Philanthropies, will fund an endowment for the school, which was founded in 2006.

“We’re very excited,” said Sarah Bartlett, dean of the journalism school. She added that the money would help make up for the steady decline in state funding for the school, which receives limited donations from its students, who “are too young in their professions to be relied upon to make major donations,” Bartlett said.

Newmark, 65, said he developed a serious interest in journalism about 10 years ago, when he started attending journalism conferences. He made friends with journalist and lecturer Jeff Jarvis, who is now a professor and the director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY.

In 2016, Newmark gave $10,000 to the school’s election coverage initiative and in February 2017 tacked on $1.5 million for a research grant, a donation that helped the school raise an additional $14 million.

Newmark, a graduate of Case Western Reserve University, which he attended with the help of scholarships, said he had chosen to make CUNY the beneficiary of his largesse because he admired its commitment to students from all backgrounds. He reached his decision after a meeting with Jarvis and Bartlett in the dean’s office, he said.

“You could say that they are the university for everyone,” Newmark said. “They were helping out people who, like me, really need a lot of scholarship help.”

Among those attending the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, 17 percent are African-American, 24 percent are Hispanic and 13 percent are Asian. Forty-five percent receive scholarships.

In addition to his CUNY gift, Newmark has made major donations to other institutions devoted to journalism: $1 million to ProPublica; $500,000 to Columbia Journalism Review; $1 million to Data & Society, a research institute; and over $560,000 to the International Center for Journalists.

“Sometimes rich people want to do fancy stuff in terms of endowments: Ivy League schools, the opera, the ballet,” Newmark said. “Me? I want to help out people who, much like me, really needed a hand. If you’re lucky enough to do well, then I feel the right thing is to give people a hand, and the best way for me to do that is to help out journalism.”

But Newmark’s reputation in the journalism industry has not been the most positive. Craigslist, which he founded in the mid-1990s, put a dent in newspaper classified ads — a trusty generator of revenue in more print-centric times — and is often blamed, in part, for the industry’s revenue decline.

According to a 2012 study by Robert Seamans, an associate professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and Feng Zhu, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, Craigslist forced the newspaper industry to change its business model.

“Based on the research we did, there’s no question that Craigslist’s entry had a big effect on the newspaper industry,” Seamans said. “The effect was the change in the way newspapers run their business. What we find is that, as Craigslist is entering different markets at different points in time, newspapers are shifting away from the classifieds ads model.”

Seamans and Zhu found that newspapers lost about $5 billion in classifieds revenue to Craigslist from 2000 to 2007.

Newmark does not believe the website he founded is responsible for the industry’s decline. “It’s really hard to find the effect,” he said. “We’re sure there must have been something. But newspapers started losing circulation and revenue long before Craigslist.”

When asked if his desire to give millions of dollars to the journalism school had sprung from a sense of guilt, Newmark said no.

“My motivation in helping is because, in our country right now, we are facing a crisis in getting trustworthy news out there to overwhelm the misinformation,” he said.