Craigslist is saving newspapers!
I respectfully disagree with Arianna Huffington's claim this week that Craig helped her kill print journalism.
Just as Prohibition handed over the lucrative liquor trade to the Bronfmans and the Kennedys, rabid law enforcement agents are chasing the equally lucrative classified sex ads from craigslist back to old-fashioned newsprint businesses nervy enough to keep publishing them.
A post on washingtoncitypaper.com notes "an erotic comeback" of lurid revenue, including at City Paper's own printed product, where adult ads were up 38 percent over last year, according to the classifieds manager. The publisher of Minneapolis' City Pages says adult ads have "almost doubled." And at our own SF Weekly, the report notes, paid R-rated pitches for X-rated services went from 160 a week when craigslist still had a lot of leash, to 910 last week, post-crackdown.
New life for the printed page, even if it's dressed in Frederick's of Hollywood.
But that relief couldn't have happened without Craig and CEO Jim Buckmaster agreeing reluctantly to bizarre restrictions under threat of government suits from all manner of Elliot Nesses out there.
The entire scenario is like something out of a Coen Brothers' movie: full of some violence, nonsense, surreality, and slapstick (and probably a little spanking-for-pay.)
Now that craigslist has wrapped its sex classifieds in a plain brown paper cover of "adult services" instead of the former "erotic services" category to try to mollify 47 state attorneys general and other blue law crusaders, let's take a brief step backwards and breathe in the complete absurdity of the whole picture.
It's true that bad things happened in real life because of hook-ups via craigslist's sex ads. Some freak killed a Boston woman after answering her craigslist posting as a masseuse. And another charmer, facing 30 years in prison for raping three women who'd advertised on the site's now remodeled "erotic services" section, hanged himself this week in a Missouri jail cell.
Sliding down the Patrick Fitzgerald bat pole, caped avengers around the country from sheriffs to hard-charging and ambitious New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo put the squeeze on craigslist to do its own slipcover work on the adult ads to avoid legal action.
Compromises were reached, including the brown bag/"Pretty Woman" sleight of hand on wording. Like "erotic" and "adult" somehow live on different planets.
But what's with the double standard? Newspapers, mostly weeklies, print the same kinds of ads for the same "services" and no one blinks. It just seems like flat-out selective prosecution when a masseuse on craigslist is considered a hooker while a masseuse in an SF Weekly classified is apparently a bona fide health services worker. Maybe one description is a little saltier than the other, but very few of us were born yesterday.
Even as craigslist is duking it out with the law, alt weeklies and other print publications continue to benefit. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as one commenter on this week's press/Obama post pointed out -- but "full body massage" ads are less about the massage than about body parts and a happy ending.
And on those tabloid-grisly crimes -- the Boston guy was even called "The Craigslist Killer." Newspapers didn't used to have just a monopoly on the advertising, but also on the occasional psychopaths who read them. Let's check the history:
Bobbie Joe Long, busted in 1984, was called the "Classified Ad Rapist" after assaulting at least 50 women, killing some of them. Going back further, there was Harvey Glatman, the "Want Ad Killer." Over a dozen movies were made, true-life and fiction, about murderers who tracked their prey out of newspaper classifieds or lonely hearts columns.
So stop picking on craigslist just because it's popular, successful, a lion of sometimes irritating social media networking, and can get you big publicity as a moralist.
I'm not advocating for or against prostitution. But this is about discriminatory law enforcement using a lot of taxpayers' money. And, frankly, it's a little like a worldwide crusade against BB guns.
And just to put the an ironic capper on the whole wacky drama, those same officers of the public trust, by having craigslist charge more for adult ads as a way of "controlling them," have just helped moralize my friend Craig and his company right up to the alleged $100 million in annual revenue that was reported this week.
Barack Obama may or may not be God, but Craig Newmark seems to be. He's making lots of money, courtesy of government officials -- giving away some of it to future-of-journalism enterprises -- AND throwing weekly newspapers a life preserver. This could save him from the category of what Newsweek columnist Daniel Lyons calls "the (tech) geeks pocketing all the dough," presenting "themselves as a bunch of pious, sweet-natured nerds" who make the old "big, bad media barons look like a bunch of amateurs."
That's certainly a happy ending for some people.