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Craigslist Founder on media, Obama, and Google Nexus One

On Friday, Craigslist Founder and SFGate.com blogger Craig Newmark was kind enough to open his cool Cole Valley, San Francisco home to me for a vlog interview on the future of media. This is the second "City Brights" video interview I've conducted; the first one was with Doc Jan Gurley, or "Doc Gurley."

For those of you who don't know Craig Newmark, he's a San Franciscan who 15-years ago started what was to be a simple website to help friends make connections with services, resources, and each other. It grew to a 500-city website system of which while he's the founder, is no longer the owner. By agreement, we did not talk about Craigslist business.

The talk with Craig (which was impacted by network problems that were vexing Craig when I arrived) really turned from a look at the future of media, to focus on a lot of pressing media problems today, then on Obama and the Google Nexus One. But to be sure, many people have been talking about The Future of Media. Just a Google search of the term reveals a number of relevant results out of the 199 million recorded.

When I asked Craig Newmark why this was the case -- why the concern? Craig said "A lot of people do realize that a trustworthy and viable press that asks questions is vital to the survival of our country, however, there's more and more problems that come up."

Craig Newmark does not consider himself a media expert, but says that he talks to a lot of people in media and journalists and from his base as a customer service rep for the Craigslist site, he has a view "from the ground."

Craig says there's a great concern for accuracy and fact-checking in media today. Craig also reports that, "In a lot of publications, there's a tendency to make things up...Even TV network or two seeks to propagate that disinformation." What he's talking about has many examples, the latest being the rumored breakup of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, or the fake news death of Johnny Depp. In politics, the Right Wingnuts propagated the view that President Obama was Muslim and Fox News helped spread the idea.

This blogger thought the blogsphere was supposed to take care of correcting such information problems, but Craig correctly states that blogs also put out false information. The problem will persist until more media institutions do something about it.

With this, Craig's view of the future is optimistic because more and more people are working in what he calls "Networks of trust", doing fact-checking and news curation. Craig says that the main problem in media and journalism today is money; there' so much media that revenue does not flow to the newspapers of the past or present, leading to staff budget cuts and in some cases closures of entire publications, like The Rocky Mountain News, or Editor and Publisher.

Craig says there are a number of new media business models unfolding that are interesting, most notably the new non-profit initiative funded with $5 million from San Francisco financier Warren Hellman, called the Bay Area News Project. The BANP - which came under fire from local traditional journalists because they see it as taking jobs away from them - just hired Lisa Frazier as its CEO, and new Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Weber; Frazier will reportedly earn $400,000 per year.

Nice for a non-profit.

At any rate, Craig looks favorably on the BANP effort, which will supply Bay Area stories to the New York Times. Newmark sees the New York Times as a bastion of media accuracy, which I disagree with, but this space is not the place for that. He points to the NY Times as one publication that focuses more on important stories than others, and derides the habit of reporting "non-important" stories over stories of importance.

I asked Craig about this because as a person who earns a living via the development of media traffic I will post a celebrity blog entry over a political blog entry because it's clicked on more. That's just human nature. Craig says that's OK as long as important stories are mixed in. "People need to make money," he says. But regardless of the type of story, he wants to see more accurate blogs and news sites.

Craig recommends a good 30-second Google "sanity check" to make sure a story is accurate, and avoiding putting someone on as a news guest or source who's intentionally putting out a false story. Now with all of this, you may think Craig doesn't like TMZ.com, the "Three-Mile-Zone" celebrity news site with the habit of breaking big entertainment-related stories and getting news that other publications wish they could have. Craig appreciates what TMZ has done, he just hasn't got around to reading it. "My focus is elsewhere, and I need a break."

On Barack Obama and the media

We turned to how the media has covered President Barack Obama. Both Craig and I were among the first to support then-Senator Barack Obama (for me, December of 2006), for President. Craig is saddened by what he sees as the media covering the "sensational" aspects of Obama's presidency, but not the substance of what Obama is doing or has done. "Most of the media has badly or unfairly covered Obama," Craig observes.

Craig calls for bloggers to promote the truth about Obama, and on matters of how Obama has insisted on accountability and transparency in government "There's been a lot more accomplished in the first year (of Obama's Presidency), than the last eight (under George W. Bush)."

On Craigslist and society

From his ground level view at Craigslist, Craig see a "benevolent" society. "The big change I think I've seen," Craig says, "is that using the net people see that they can help each other out, and its easy to do."

Google Nexus One vs. iPhone

Craig Newmark is testing the Google Nexus One against the iPhone, and had both out for view in the video. "Right now, I think I'm heading, I think, towards the Nexus. The iPhone is a great phone, but right now it's on AT&T. There a few year behind where they need to be in in terms of networks...I may wind up with an Android phone on the Verizon network. I like the Nexus. As soon as I can figure out Google Voice, I can network all of my phones and make my life a little easier."

The 25-minute video features a deeper conversation on governance and technology, which I will post later this week. But Craig has also agreed to do another video talk so we can better flesh out many of the topics we touched on today.

Stay tuned.
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