Deez Interviews: Craig Newmark, on his daily media diet + grassroots giving strategy

This week’s interview is with Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and the philanthropist known for serious industry-quaking gifts to places like CUNY’s J-school and The Markup. We chatted about the news he gets every day, why he focuses his giving on grassroots orgs, and what he’s most worried about come November. Enjoy!

So first off, what is your personal media diet like on a typical day? 

I start reading a whole bunch of email newsletters and RSS feeds, in the first hour or more of my day. In no particular order, and fearing that I've left some out:

  • Axios newsletters (via Mike Allen, Sara Fischer, Dion Rabouin)

  • Political Wire via Taegan Goddard

  • Popular Information via Judd Legum

  • The Interface via Casey Newton

  • Politico Playbook 

  • Protocol

  • Quartz


  • Washington Post Politics AM, etc.

  • Poynter news

  • Morning Brew

  • Reliable Sources (via Brian Stelter, Oliver Darcy)

  • Bloomberg NEWS

  • The Guardian

  • Jewish Insider

  • Google News

  • Pew Briefing

  • American Press Institute

You kicked off the start of 2020 by funding a number of election-centric projects and outlets, including the 19th, ProPublica's Electionland, the American Press Institute, and PEN America to combat disinformation and voting rights. Why choose several organizations to fund versus say, putting all your philanthropic heft behind just one place (or even starting your own)? 

I'm not all that smart, not persuasive, and not influential, so I've found different groups of people who are effective in their own areas of expertise, like social media, like news, like voting rights and related litigation. I feel that only a coalition of such groups, acting in good conscience to protect our democracy can succeed. My deal is to share whatever resources I have with them, and then, I get out of the way.

It's also good that there's a network of networks, because bad actors are very good at dirty tricks, and a network of networks is way more resilient then centralized efforts.

I'm also curious about your decision to invest in nonprofits like the Global Cyber Alliance to bolster cybersecurity for journalists, election officials, etc. Why go that route instead of say, drumming up a PAC to push cybersecurity policies through or leaning on the major tech players involved? 

In this area, I'm also working with a network of networks of people already doing a good job. The Global Cyber Alliance and also the Aspen Cybersecurity Group, with others, lead the way. As usual, I provide resources, and then get out of the way. 

Given the buzz and general level of activity that your philanthropy has drummed up, I was actually pretty surprised to find that there are only two people on your philanthropy’s board — including yourself! Does this mean you personally review every proposal that comes in? 

I really do review each proposal, but I get a lot of help, like the folks at Aspen Cybersecurity Group, the International Women’s Media Fund, The Bob Woodruff Foundation (vets), Blue Star Families, CUNY J-school, Black Media Institute, the Carnegie Endowment Partnership to Counter Influence Ops, and the Trusted Elections Network at the American Press Institute, to name a few.

Finally, with November being only four months away, what worries you most about our current information landscape?

Our democracy and our country are under attack by our foreign adversaries and their domestic allies. It's up to people of good conscience to fight back, to take the battle to the enemy. The battlegrounds are in social media, are in mass media, are in the courts, and are in the polling places. 

In particular, the American election and democracy is being targeted by very powerful and smart bad actors — foreign and domestic — who are trying to rig our election, but also to attack our country via false claims about their opposition rigging the election. People of good conscience, including myself, worry that the people attacking our country with disinformation might be setting us up for civil unrest.

Don’t forget to follow @craignewmark, and have a good weekend!

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