Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has taken part of his online classified ads money and gotten involved in advocating for journalism, funding lectures at the Poynter Institute and backing a guide to press ethics.

But not everyone is thrilled with Newmark’s advocacy, including Frank Blethen.

Blethen, the publisher of The Seattle Times, “scoffed” at Newmark’s journalism-related ventures in a report by the New York Times, in part because of what Blethen sees as Craigslist’s role in upending classified ads, which were traditionally a major revenue generator for newspapers.

“He clearly disrupted classified advertising,” Blethen told the New York Times, “and now he’s portraying himself in this public policy realm.”

Newmark said he was still looking for “hard evidence” that Craigslist was responsible for the drop in newspaper classifieds.

The comments come amid an ever-changing media landscape. The Seattle Times late last month agreed to sell land in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, with some of the profits from the $62.5 million real estate transaction to be used to bolster the newspaper’s digital offerings. And, of course, the big news of last week was founder Jeff Bezos’ $250 million purchase of The Washington Post.

More on the changes going on in digital media from last weekend’s GeekWire podcast: “Jeff Bezos, the Washington Post and the future of media.”

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  • Guest

    Have you ever picked up a Seattle Times? I do every week. The Sunday paper is at least 50% advertising, including whole sections to flog real estate and big-box stores, and 40% wire stories you can get from anywhere. Frankly, the “newspaper” should be smaller than one of those religious newspapers that are handed out downtown.

    Seattle, being a small city, has a small amount of news. (Just look at today’s front-page story, “How the US patrols the skies from local base,” written by the Associated Press.) A small staff can cover Seattle with a small paper and a small web site. The idea that we need a huge news operation to cover Seattle, with a huge building and a huge amount of filler material, is delusional at best.

    Adapt or die.

    • margaret Bartley

      Well, Seattle is a small city, but it’s annual budget is around $800 million, plus all the voter-approved construction and maintenance budgets. With a metropolitan area of 2 million, there are LOTS of government agencies, committees, budgets and actions that could be covered by a decent, involved press with a professional reporting staff, but are completely and totally ignored by the Seattle Times. It’s not just the Times, but also TV and radio coverage that is non-existent.
      So why not use craigslist – I don’t see a much to support in local coverage in Seattle Times.

  • annonymous

    “Newmark said he was still looking for “hard evidence” that Craigslist was responsible for the drop in newspaper classifieds.”

    WOW, Frank hasn’t seen the “Hard Evidence”, really? Where have you been looking? This comment doesn’t inspire confidence in your leadership abilities.

  • John Shrader

    It makes me sad when I hear people blame others innovative success for their failures. I guess Blethen has no concept of positive disruption. I am hopeful that Bezos can pull off a re invention of the Washington Post, so that others with no imagination and not an innovative bone in their bodies can have a model to save their newspapers by.

  • Huckleberry

    annonymous, it’s the craigslist founder who claims he’s still looking for “hard evidence” of a fact that anyone else would acknowledge is indisputable. Frank Blethen certainly has all the evidence he needs that newspaper classifieds have been thoroughly upended by craigslist.

    • annonymous

      Thanks for clarifying for me that it was CL that was looking for “Hard evidence”.

  • JCJ Bike

    For the craigslist guy to say he has seen no evidence he has hurt the newspaper classified business means he hasn’t tried once to even LOOK. In fact, it hasn’t just hurt that business, it has all but killed it.

    I don’t think Blethen is saying craigslist is the sole problem to his business. He is just pointing out how laughable it is for the CL founder to say he doesn’t think he has hurt newspapers.

    Keep in mind, the big reason why CL can’t develop a huge paid listing business model (even if they wanted to) is some other small group of techies could easily recreate a simple posting site like CL in a week and users would migrate to that one in lieu of paying CL. That, to me is tacit proof that he knows exactly what free ads on CL have done to paid ads like newspaper classifieds. If people would be happy to pay for ads vs. going to a free listing service, CL could charge $20 a listing and have the valuation of eBay overnight.

    • Guest


      • JCJ Bike

        I can’t think of too many things that if, were given to you for free, that you wouldn’t devalue anyone delivering you the same thing for a fee. If I gave you unlimited food, of course you are going to say “food, at the end of the day has virtually no cash value.”

        If I stopped giving you free food, then the weekly sale flyer for Safeway will start looking good to you.

        I’m not advocating anything on the newspapers’ behalf other to say that nobody including Blethen said that “craigslist set out to kill the newspaper business.” He (and I) am saying that it’s laughable that the CL founder can’t see any evidence that his site hasn’t had a huge impact on the newspaper business model.

        • Guest

          Read between the lines. The newspaper business model has always been flawed. Craigslist had no impact on that flawed bizmod.

          • JCJ Bike

            A business model that kept the newspaper profitable and “in business” for 100+ years can’t really be flawed.. can it? But don’t let the facts get in your way anytime soon.

          • Guest

            Travel agents stayed in business for 100+ years with a flawed business model before the Internet put them out of business. Ditto car dealers: 100 years in business, but starting this year they’ll be increasingly irrelevant until they’re all gone by around 2033. Why are newspapers immune from criticism?

          • JCJ Bike

            So, to follow your logic, unless a business goes on forever, it has a “flawed” business model? If I started a business today that lasted over 100 years and brought in literally billions of revenue (and profit) during that time, I think it’s easy to say that company had a great run. You can’t possibly predict in ten years (let alone 100) what new technologies will exist to change the business landscape and that’s in virtually all categories of business. (publishing, transportation, entertainment, farming, etc.) I’m not sure anyone including myself isn’t criticizing newspapers here NOT because they are immune from criticism, but the story wasn’t about newspapers, but how the CL founder is unable (or more accurately unwilling) to see how his site has hurt newspaper classifieds. How you took that and turned it into slamming newspapers is a mystery to me and probably most of the people reading your posts. Even you admit you prefer CL so your actions support Blethen’s position. You can go sell crazy someplace else now…

          • Guest

            The ends do not justify the means.

            Selling little classified ads because you’re the only publisher in town is not a viable business model: no value is generated as the barriers to entry get lower. Consider also the gatekeepers of years past selling a commoditizable service. How much did it cost to place a long-distance phone call 20 years ago? Today it’s free. How much did it cost to trade stocks 30 years ago? Today it’s free. Keep going and you’ll see a legion of companies that thought themselves invincible having been, for lack of a better term, vinced.

            I don’t care how much money the gatekeepers of today make. If they don’t produce anything of value to go along with their minimal business models, as Google does with its web search and e-mail services, they’re doomed.

          • Guest500

            Idiot. It isn’t “flawed” just because something else finally came along and undermined it. Newspapers have 2 problems, 1, the news is late and 2, their distribution model is really expensive.

            That said, in my opinion reading a newspaper it is still a better experience, from a pure reading perspective, than electronic consumption.

          • Harkonnen

            So let’s just say that it is “flawed” in the sense that the 100+ year business model of newspapers has finally met its’ match.

          • JCJ Bike

            “The ends do not justify the means???” In 1899.. or 1949.. or 1979.. or 1999.. people needed to sell things and companies needed to hire employees. Following your “logic” (and believe me it is quite challenging), newspapers should have not charged for these ads because in the next century, a guy would develop a way to post those ads and not charge to do it??

            BTW… if you examine your phone bill (including cell phone) you will find it isn’t free. In fact, Americans are paying more now than ever for communication and things like cable TV.

            If it’s so easy, why don’t you go start a cell phone business or cable TV company? Now about a news organization? You aren’t factoring in the massive development costs and you also aren’t factoring in developed skills. Why don’t you become the managing editor of The Times? Because you aren’t trained to do the job and have no experience. YOU have no value.

            Take some business classes. If you already have, go get a refund.

    • Guest

      Craigslist didn’t set out to kill the newspaper business. I want to buy and sell things on-line with rich, current ads. Why must I have to pick up a newspaper full of tiny ads with no pictures to see what people are offering, many of which represent products and services that are no longer available? Craigslist meets my needs in ways in which newspapers don’t.

      Newspaper businessmen have known for 30 years that technology would forever change the way they produce news. Instead of innovating, most have appealed to their loyal (cranky, elderly) readers to fight the change that has devastated their industry’s once solid revenue model. The Seattle Times has no more reason to exist than the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the other corpses interred in the marble and stone newsrooms of centuries past.

      Classifieds, at the end of the day, have virtually no cash value. That newspapers expected to bank on them forever shows incredibly poor business sense and an embarrassing lack of foresight from media CEOs.

  • Christopher Budd

    Also potentially of interest to this is Jimmy Wales talking about “wiki-fication” of journalism in the post-Wikileaks/Snowden era:

  • jvc

    As a small business owner who was gouged repeatedly by the Seattle TImes classified ad rates, I cheer for Craigslist and the clear message it sends to greedy and incompetent managers like Mr. Blethen. His paper’s monolithic political bias is enough to insult a person’s intelligence, the expectation that people should feel sorry for him that he is unable to steal from people is beyond comprehension.

  • Eric LeVine

    Blethen should look in the mirror if he wants to grouse about public policy.

    Who can forget his bizarre decision to offer free political placement for a variety of his pet issues (on both sides of the aisle at least) at the height of last fall’s election. He upended his own journalists and editorial board in the process. That is bizarre policy…

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