Q&A: Craig Newmark aims to defend democracy via philanthropy

Sep 15, 2022, 6:05 PM | Updated: Sep 16, 2022, 7:26 am

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2018 file photo, Craig Newmark attends the 12th annual Stand Up For Heroes b...

FILE - In this Nov. 5, 2018 file photo, Craig Newmark attends the 12th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit on Nov. 5, 2018 in New York. Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has since retired from the pioneering website that made him a billionaire, according to Forbes, but the 69-year-old says he is now busier than ever with his philanthropy. (Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP, File)

(Photo by Brad Barket/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Craig Newmark twists a “Batman” quote to jokingly refer to himself as “not the nerd you want, but maybe now and then I’m the nerd you need.”

Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has since retired from the pioneering website that made him ultra-rich by expanding the world of classified ads onto the internet. But the 69-year-old self-proclaimed nerd says he’s now busier than ever as a philanthropist, with what he calls his particular skills — nurturing talent, directing people toward a goal, synthesizing expert knowledge — in high demand.

Through Craig Newmark Philanthropies, he launched the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York and has donated to numerous charities that support trustworthy journalism, voter protection, veterans and their families and encouragement for girls to seek careers in technology.

And in April, he committed $50 million in donations to the Cyber Civil Defense initiative. It is intended to help protect Americans from escalating cybersecurity threats.

Newmark sees the bulk of his philanthropic work as a way to help protect democracy, a cause to which he has already donated more than $250 million. That includes his latest donation — funding the Newmark Civic Life Series of Recanati-Kaplan Talks and an initiative of the 92NY Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact, which runs through the end of the year in New York City.

Topics include “The Big Truth: Upholding Democracy in the Age of ‘The Big Lie’,” moderated by CBS News anchor John Dickerson on Sept. 18, and future events including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, New York Times reporter and author Maggie Haberman and the founders of Axios.

The Associated Press spoke recently with Newmark about the lecture series and why he believes democracy is in danger. The interview was edited for clarity and length.


Q: Why did you want to sponsor this series?

A: Basically, our country and our democracy are under threat. And a guy like me, who doesn’t know a lot, figures, “I can work with other people to stand up and defend the country.” I’m doing that in a number of ways. One way is to work with 92NY. They get people who really know their stuff and who talk for the country. I’m not the right guy. It takes a kind of savvy that as a nerd, I lack.

Q: How does gathering people with varying viewpoints help solidify democracy?

A: Well, democracy is about getting people with different viewpoints to work together and get along. The deal is that some people will have strengths, where others have weaknesses and vice versa. There’s always a lot to learn. I’m trying to learn how to counter disinformation, and that’s a theme of these talks. But the more I learned, the more I realized that my confronting a disinformation professional makes me the person bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Q: How do you cut through the disinformation, especially as we approach the midterm elections?

A: I don’t know how to cut through it, but I can speak simple truths. Like the argument that things are thoroughly corrupt. You could show people that’s false. And generally speaking, the corruption argument comes from people pushing the message that says, “Abandon all hope.” If you abandon hope, you’ve lost. There’s still a lot of time to support democracy. It won’t be easy. My contribution will be to support people who are good at it. Like I’m hearing that pre-bunking, inoculating people against disinformation might be really helpful, along with flooding the zone with facts. There’s a lot more good actors than bad actors. The 92NY programs are about telling people who are potentially good actors that it’s time to stand up.

Q: And what do “good actors” need to do?

A: You have to find people willing to take a good honest look at what’s going on and challenge their own assumptions. And then act on that. It’s tough, because we all have confirmation bias. I have confirmation bias. I’ve learned through the decades that I’ve been very wrong at times. That’s why I act in a pretty restrained way. There’s a lot of good people doing a lot of this work. They need to talk to each other. They need to work with each other. Then, effectiveness is amplified. When people work together like that, people are also safer. If they work together en masse, creating a such a target-rich environment, it’s much more difficult for very bad actors to target them.

Q: Does that idea of collaboration extend to your philanthropy?

A: I have the disadvantage of being an amateur in philanthropy. But my biggest advantage is that I am an amateur in philanthropy. I’m not constrained by annual budget cycles and so on, although I have to deal with things like adjusting my burn rate because the biggest single area of expenditures is in supporting democracy. I’m trying to lead by example. And all I know is how to lead from the grassroots and the very bottom up. I have no skills for top-down leadership. I’m a black hole of charisma, you know; I absorb it without emitting any. So all I know is to stand up for things and nudge people to do so relentlessly.


Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, the founder of ChatGPT and creator of OpenAI gestures while speaking at Un...

Associated Press

ChatGPT maker downplays fears they could leave Europe over AI rules

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman on Friday downplayed worries that the ChatGPT maker could exit the European Union

17 hours ago

File - Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, left, and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman arrive to the White House for a ...

Associated Press

Regulators take aim at AI to protect consumers and workers

As concerns grow over increasingly powerful artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT, the nation’s financial watchdog says it’s working to ensure that companies follow the law when they’re using AI.

3 days ago

FILE - A security surveillance camera is seen near the Microsoft office building in Beijing, July 2...

Associated Press

Microsoft: State-sponsored Chinese hackers could be laying groundwork for disruption

State-backed Chinese hackers have been targeting U.S. critical infrastructure and could be laying the technical groundwork for the potential disruption of critical communications between the U.S. and Asia during future crises, Microsoft said Wednesday.

4 days ago

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House, May 17, 2023, in Washington....

Associated Press

White House unveils new efforts to guide federal research of AI

The White House on Tuesday announced new efforts to guide federally backed research on artificial intelligence

5 days ago

FILE - The Capitol stands in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED...

Associated Press

What it would mean for the economy if the US defaults on its debt

If the debt crisis roiling Washington were eventually to send the United States crashing into recession, America’s economy would hardly sink alone.

6 days ago

FILE - Bryan Kohberger, left, looks toward his attorney, public defender Anne Taylor, right, during...

Associated Press

Judge enters not guilty pleas for suspect in stabbing deaths of 4 University of Idaho students

A judge entered not guilty pleas Monday for a man charged in the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students, setting the stage for a trial in which he could potentially face the death penalty.

7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Q&A: Craig Newmark aims to defend democracy via philanthropy