Inside Craig: SFWeekly writer profiles The Listman

Ryan Blitstein’s done a lovely job profiling Craig Newmark in SF Weekly, digging into both Craig’s smart simplicity and the profound disruption his efforts have caused.
Favorite snippets:
Describing Craig monitoring CL in his unfinished home office: “This is how the multimillion-dollar global corporation that is Craigslist Inc. remains operational: with the founder sitting at home for hours a day, pointing and clicking on a “Sweep the Leg!” button. Yet the consequences of this bare-bones behemoth’s rise now stretch far beyond Newmark’s home and the Craigslist community.”
And:
“Newmark now suffers from a moral dilemma: He feels guilty about helping cause job losses and poorer-quality papers, but he’s excited to accelerate the decline of the big, bad mainstream media. He seems determined to remedy his sins against the media by changing it for the better, lending his name and dollars to a citizen journalism movement populated by J-school professors, idealistic techno-futurists, and so-called citizen journalists. A self-described news dilettante, Newmark believes his recent journalism-related work could be more important than Craigslist. Citizen journalism, though, may not be enough to plug the news hole created by his site’s success. Newmark’s well-intentioned campaign to repair the institution he inadvertently injured could very well be in vain.”
And:
“As a private for-profit, Craigslist doesn’t have to publicly disclose anything. SF Weekly parent company New Times doesn’t release many financial details, either. Newmark, though, views his creation as something different. “We do a better job as a nominal for-profit,” he says, “but we exist in a category that doesn’t really exist in the law.” That “category” allows Newmark to keep the domain Craigslist.org, a name that gives the false impression that the site is a nonprofit, by using “.org,” an extension almost exclusively used by nonprofit companies and foundations. Craigslist’s marketing materials call this “a symbol of our service mission and non-corporate culture.” ( Craigslist.com, which the company also owns, draws far less traffic.) It permits Newmark to use the word “non-commercial” twice on Craigslist’s “Mission and History” page, and to bury the phrase “No charges, except for job postings” in the third line from the bottom.”
This is the best piece on Newmark and CL I have read–and a must read for anyone interest in Craig, online classifieds, citizen journalism–and–surprise!– the role of women in new media–as in why are they missing in action in a 10,000 word story like this one?
Yep, one interesting side note here, not the focus of this terrific story–is that every single person mentioned or quoted in it–except for Craig’s unnamed girlfriend–is male.
(Susan sez: And what do you make of that? Anyone still wondering why Blogher was so special? I smell the new boys club… or unthinking writers…)

Latest Comments

  1. Nancy White says:

    Susan, I don’t work as a journalist, but are there practices that are in place (and not being used) or should be in place so a reporter THINKS about these issues? I don’t know why it floors me, but it does. As if there is not one informed woman with an opinion about Craigslist. How many of CL users/customers are female? Doesn’t Craig care?
    I think “unthinking” has a whole lot to do with it.

  2. Sylvia Paull says:

    Gee, i didn’t even notice the absence of women’s comments in this piece, because I was a bit outraged by the reporter’s attacks on Craig as having been mainly responsible for taking down local journalism as we know it.

  3. RyanBlitstein says:

    Thank you for your interest in our article, Susan.
    Sadly, you are right. Few media critics and leaders of the citizen journalism movement are women. The Watertown, MA, site h2otown.info, one of the bright spots in citizen journalism, is maintained by a female ex-journalist.

  4. Elisa Camahort says:

    “Sadly, you are right. Few media critics and leaders of the citizen journalism movement are women. ”
    Excuse me, exactly where did SUSAN say that few critics and leader of this movement are women?
    That’s just an egregious mis-statement.
    How about Jarah Euston of FresnoFamous? I guess the LA Times thought she was enough of a leader to put her on their front page. How about Lisa Stone and the work she’s done/is doing for Knight Ridder, ALM Media etc? How about Evelyn Rodriguez and her Tsunami work?
    I no longer buy the “unthinking” adjective, personally.

  5. RyanBlitstein says:

    I think Eliza misunderstood my comment. Women aren’t “unthinking” at all. Some of my most talented colleagues (Cristi Hegranes at SF Weekly) and favorite critics (Dahlia Lithwick) are female. But the fact is, if you wrote a list of the top 10 most well-known bloggers and top 10 media critics, it wouldn’t include as many women as men. I search hard for female and minority voices in all my stories, but they are harder to find — I was unable to find a female among Bay Area media analysts for this story.

  6. susan mernit says:

    Ryan, if you think that “Few media critics and leaders of the citizen journalism movement are women,” you need to become a more through researcher–
    Lisa Williams is wonderful, but there are many other women who have been thought leaders in both the community and the citzen journalism space–
    Re commnunity, check out Gunna Woodall, co-founder of liveworld, Abbe Don of electric minds, Lisa Kimball of meta systems, Kaylia Hamilin, identitywoman, Nancy White, and more.
    For citizen’s journalism, think of Susan DeFife, co-founder of Backfence, Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing who first put Kevin Sites up on the net, Mary Lou Fulton, a true ground breaker at Northwest Voices in Bakersfield, Jen Chung of the Gothamist sites– I could go on and on–the problem is not that they are not out there, it is that you are not seeing them.
    Babe, get your vision fixed and you will become an even better journalist–except for this glaring omission, your article rocked.

  7. Elisa Camahort says:

    You are the one misunderstanding, I think. I (Elisa, not Eliza) was not saying that you, Ryan, had called anyone “unthinking.” I was referring to both Susan and Nancy White wondering whether you, Ryan, were “unthinking” when omitting women voices from your article. And I was saying I am no longer willing to give people the out of being merely “unthinking.”
    Just as a side note, even though we know about much I hold the Technorati Top 100 in disdain, as of today 5 of that top 10 are either written or co-written by women (BoingBoing, Dooce, Malkin, HuffPo and Engadget.

  8. liza Sabater says:

    So … ummm … what exactly do political bloggers do these days? You mean to tell me you couldn’t pick up the phone and talk to Chris Nolan, one of the most well known independent journalists, blogger and now online entrepreneur who happens to be in the area?
    You have got to be kidding me, right?
    Yes, not a lot of us political bloggers are reporters –although we do work as a citizen journalists on my NYC politics blog, The Daily Gotham– but for chrissakes, would that stop people from calling Maureen Dowd a journo?
    I find this excuse of not finding anybody just pure lazy. I am sorry. It just shows that Mr. Blistein was ill prepared and is not someone in the know to write about the business of blogs.

  9. Ryan Blitstein says:

    I had no idea an offhand statement would set off such a firestorm. I didn’t call Chris Nolan (or Xeni or other bloggers) because this wasn’t a story about blogging — it was about Craigslist and citizen journalism. I spoke to about two dozen people who ended up not being quoted in the article, several of whom were women, including Peggy Kuhr, chair in community journalism at Kansas U’s j-school, and Nob Hill Gazette publisher Lois Lehrman (who, for what it’s worth, liked my article). You’ll notice that, other than Newmark (the profile subject) and his CEO, there were very few people actually quoted. They were: John McManus, director of GradeTheNews.org, the premier watchdog over Bay Area journalism; Frank Vega and William Johnson, Bay Area newspaper publishers; Robert Cauthorn and Lou Alexander, authors of the most important studies on the effects of Craigslist on classifieds; and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, often considered to be prototype for a citizen journalism site. I chose them either because they said the most interesting things out of a group of similar sources, or because they were the only possible source for a given set of information.

  10. Nancy White says:

    I want to come back for a second and clarify what I meant by “unthinking.” And no, I wasn’t being kind, but I also wasn’t being very clear! It is a description, not a value judgement. Unthinking can stem from many sources.
    “Unthinking” is something we all do all the time.
    There is the “stupid” unthinking – lazy, moving too fast, or whatever. That is for the people who know better and have worked on the blindspot.
    Then there is the unconcious unthinking. Blindspots. We climb our ladder of inference (see http://www.systems-thinking.org/loi/loi.htm) skiping steps all along they way, building our realities around our personal values, assumptions and past experiences. We don’t go down to the data level. From a journalistic perspective, not digging deep enough.
    Sadly, this is the basis for much of what is taken as “acceptable practice” in many domains. “Good enough.” Getting it done faster, cheaper can lead us to reinforce our blindspots and make unthinking simply the way we do business. Bad idea.
    So if, for example, a reporter has never stopped to look at her or his values and assumptions and how they impact her or his work, they will have blindspots. They will be “unthinking” in that their patterns are so fixed (and probably effective for them and worse, reinforced by their organization) that they just don’t see the big hole in front of them. They whole organization effectively ignores the elephant in the living room.
    Now, can we each be free of all blind spots? I’ve yet to meet a human who can. But, as reporters, writers, journalists, citizews, we have things that can help avoid our unthinking behavior. A key one is we can use our networks to help bridge the gaps.
    So Ryan, you or your organization could convene an informational panel and invite in – and get HELP inviting in – more women in the tech or classifieds domain. Bring them in for an extended lunch and listen to them. Ask good questions. Answer theirs. Ask them to bring their “rolodexes”. Get them in your list so when you don’t know who to call, you know someone who will know someone. Better yet, the person you call will know you and know that you are always willing to “walk down the ladder of inference” with you to identify blindspots and reduce “unthinking behavior.” In other words, we start trusting each other to talk about and address our blindspots.
    “Unthinking” is not an absolution or an excuse. It is an unexamined behavior. So maybe we need to take more time and care in examination.
    Ryan, and any other journalist reading this, know we are paying attention to how you treat us as women in the stories and communities you write about. We don’t want to be anyone’s blindspot. You can ask us to help you and we will. Or you can continue in the “unthinking way” and you will continue to hear from us — and probably won’t be fun.
    Remember: we buy papers and consume media. And we don’t want to be invisible because we are part of almost every conceivable story!

  11. Dina Mehta says:

    One more lady I’d like to add to this list is Rebecca McKinnon and what she is doing with Global Voices Online. Its one of the best forms of Citizen Journalism and its grassroots, bottom-up and extremely effective.

  12. Lisa Williams says:

    in addition to the women in CJ mentioned so far, here are a few more off the top of my head that haven’t been mentioned yet:
    Sheila Lennon — one of the most informed writers out there about telco and FCC
    Chris Nolan — coined “standalone journalist”
    Debbie Galant
    Liz George who together write Baristanet, which may be the only indy, hyperlocal CJ site that’s actually raking in real money
    Staci Kramer — news at PaidContent and elsewhere
    Amy Gahran of I, Reporter
    3 out of the four guest columns participatory media at Pressthink this month while Jay Rosen has been finishing his book were women; there was only one man.
    Probably more, if I thought about it for awhile. The question is, how do you get in peoples’ rolodexes (retro, I know).

  13. Lisa Williams says:

    Oops, Liza did mention Chris Nolan. Sorry — tired.

  14. Lisa Williams says:

    Speaking for myself, I’m not looking for a Mea Maxima Culpa from Ryan or anybody else. It’s just that this kind of stuff happens to us *all* *the* *time*, and it gets old being consistently ignored, looking around at the world and seeing persistent underrecognition even when women *are* there actually doing the work. It’s like the recurring “where are the women bloggers” meme that goes around the blogosphere every three months or so, and the answer is always the same, “Hi, we’re right here, in fact we outnumber you slightly just as we do in real life.” And then the Cloud of Unknowing descends, and three months later you get the same question. And I don’t want women to be paid attention to because they’re women, but because they’re human beings and they’re doing the same work as their male peers, so why not?
    The Cloak of Invisibility problem doesn’t just happen to me online, either. When I’m out with my kids I’d swear I’m wearing a camouflage burqa — nobody seems to see me, except, of course, for other women with children. It’s actually led to some comical routines in stores, where I’m standing right there waiting to be served and the clerk (not just men but women too) will call on the male customer behind me as if I’m not there. When I pipe up, they often look as if I’ve just teleported into existence in their store and they say, “Oh, I didn’t see you.”
    I’ve been exceptionally lucky that people have reached out and included me in many things, and the net result of this is that I’m more visible than some of my female peers who are doing very similar stuff, which is why I talk about them every chance I get, because they deserve the recognition as much as I do.
    Speaking of which! Lynne of Left In Lowell — which did fantastic election night coverage for the city of Lowell, MA — is hosting BlogLeft Massachusetts on Dec. 10, spread the word to your east coast blogfriends.

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