Craigslist founder speaks to businesspeople, students in Columbia

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 | 5:38 p.m. CDT
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, speaks Tuesday at Reynolds Journalism Institute. Newmark created Craigslist while working for Charles Schwab.

COLUMBIA — Craigslist founder Craig Newmark had an overall message on Tuesday for Columbia's journalists and businesspeople: serve your community.

"We (Craigslist) think of ourselves as something that helps a lot of people," Newmark said at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce's Business Showcase on Tuesday.

Silverware clicked constantly against hundreds of plates during the luncheon at the Holiday Inn Select-Executive Center, creating steady background noise for the keynote speaker. He spoke for about 20 minutes on the history and business approach of Craigslist, a Web site for free, local classified advertisements. Since its founding in 1995, it has grown to more than 700 local sites in 70 countries.

Throwing in some self-deprecating humor, Newmark acknowledged that his best work is in customer service rather than day-to-day operations.

“People were kind enough to tell me how much I sucked as a manager,” he said. Jim Buckmaster has been the chief executive officer since 2000.

Craigslist has plenty of customers with monthly averages of about 50 million users in the United States and more than 20 billion page views.

The online classifieds site retains a basic look, in part because Newmark said he had no design skills when he started out. However, the Web site serves its purpose: providing an online community for locals.

“Exciting, cool Web design doesn’t help people get a job or find a place to live,” Newmark said.

Kathy Estes, who helped bring Newmark to Columbia, said Newmark has been generous with his time.

“Normally people speak then leave, and he’s been here for two days,” said Estes, global accounts manager for Helms Briscoe.

Estes said Newmark has engaged in several activities since he’s been in Columbia, including touring MU and speaking to about 80 Missouri journalism students and faculty Tuesday morning at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

During the introduction, RJI fellow Bill Densmore said Newmark might be considered a demon to newspapers — because the free online classifieds took revenue from print newspapers — but he’s a savior to the community.

“We listen to what people in the community want,” Newmark said about Craigslist's free and local emphasis. “We’re very community-driven.”

A 45-minute question-and-answer session produced feedback from Newmark on journalism’s future:

Who will create future journalism content?

  • “Networks of bloggers working with networks from traditional newsrooms.”
  • People will get their news from a trusted network of friends and news organizations. “You’ll want to be building your reputation now."
  • The program with the best reputation for investigative reporting and fact-checking: "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Newmark said that "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" with Stephen Colbert "deserve the trust they have." Both shows use humor to critique politics, culture and the media.

How can newspaper publishers compete with Craigslist?

  • Newspaper publishers have told him having classifieds as a revenue stream was nice while it lasted.
  • Newspapers should focus on “better quality news in real-time with lots of fact checking.” Recent health care coverage was an "epic fail" because it focused on politics rather than legislation.

How important will advertising be in the future?

  • There will be an increased emphasis on blogs and consumer reports to learn about products. This will cause a dramatic shift in advertising in the future, particularly for politics.
  • As TV advertising becomes unimportant in politics, social media will become more important. Since using social media will be cheaper, politicians can spend less time fundraising for expensive TV ads, and “they can spend more time doing their job.”

When asked about his own future, Newmark said, “I guess I could maybe retire, but I wouldn’t know what I would do with myself.”

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david teeghman April 7, 2010 | 1:39 a.m.

Well, my question was actually about crowd-sourcing governmental oversight. Someone else asked about Craigslist's international expansion.

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