Eat The Press

craig newmark.jpg

from pcworld.com

The latest "Craigslist vs. the Newspapers" incident is making the rounds. The cause: Yet another group of businessfolk (this time it was Wall Streeters at the UBS global media conference) heard company CEO Jim Buckmaster explain that Craigslist's purpose is to help people, not make piles of money. Craigslist could make billions, he says, by tacking on text ads or charging for more listings. But they don't — because "no users have been requesting that we run text ads."

This would be a tired story — Buckmaster gave the same speech to amazed mediafolk in February and a worshipful Wall Street Journal reporter in June. But Philadelphia Daily News's Will Bunch reacted to Buckmaster's comments with the suggestion that Craigslist run text ads anyway, and stream the revenue toward the "thousands of working men and women across this country, your neighbors who work at and publish your local newspaper" who are being so ruthlessly targeted by the benignly-free Craigslist (that's founder Craig Newmark above, looking harmless as ever). This argument, tongue in cheek though Bunch may intend it to be, breaks down into two points, both of which are untenable.

The first is that Craigslist should ratchet up profits and donate them to a cause. It's almost logical: Craigslist admits the profit is there to be had, and they're a bunch of philanthropic San Francisco hippies, right? So why not just take this easy money and give it back out? Nice idea, but ow long until Craigslist turns into a charity that's not really good for users? As anyone who's ever searched for an apartment or a couch on it well knows, there's more than enough text to sift through already. But either way, it's their company, dammit. If you don't like it, start your own.

Meanwhile, the second idea (also recycled from February) goes: Craigslist is stealing the classified business from newspapers. Many people rely on that money. Therefore Craigslist is robbing newspaper staff and therefore, says Bunch, the company owes them.

Of course, that's just like demanding that video resurrect the radio star or asking Gutenberg to please fund the monks. If Craigslist does classifieds better, and newspapers haven't learned to adapt in the past decade, then maybe journalists should have moved to stabler employers.

So when Bunch says Craigslist should run text ads and "pay for the college education of the dozens of displaced journalists across America losing their jobs everyday," he's attacking the wrong problem with the wrong solution. And to name laid-off or pensionless journalists as Craigslist's victims instead of the victims of an industry that didn't turn around fast enough? As Buckmaster says, that's not the point.

Nick Douglas

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