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Hypocrisy for Sale: Craigslist Founder Invests in Journalism Ethics Book

Here’s a fun little trip through an era of “disruption” in the media industry:

February 2, 2010, Silicon Valley Watcher:

Rick Edmonds, over on Poynter Online, notes that the classified ads sector dropped to $6 billion in 2009. This compares with $10 billion in 2008, and $19.6 billion in 2000.

Much of that drop can be attributed to Craigslist, which doesn't charge any money for most of its classified ads listings. With about 30 staff, Craigslist has managed to usurp a huge amount of newspaper ad revenues. You can't compete against an organization that charges nothing. And Craigslist charges nothing for most of its classified ads because it can. It doesn't want to make money on its ads.

April 25, 2010, New York Times:

Craigslist, one of the most popular Web sites in the United States, is on track to increase its revenue 22 percent this year, largely from its controversial sex advertisements. That financial success is reviving scrutiny from law-enforcement officials who say the ads are still being used for illegal ends.

The ads, many of which blatantly advertise prostitution, are expected to bring $36 million this year, according to a new projection of Craigslist’s income. That is three times the revenue in last year’s projection.

Law-enforcement officials have been fighting a mostly losing battle to get Craigslist to rein in the sex ads. At the same time, officials of organizations that oppose human trafficking say the site remains the biggest online hub for selling women against their will. Last week, in the latest example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested 14 members of the Gambino crime family on charges of, among other things, selling the sexual services of girls ages 15 to 19 on Craigslist.

January 24, 2011, New York Daily News:

Cops fear a Craigslist serial killer is on the loose after confirming that three missing hookers advertised online were among the bodies dumped on a Long Island beach.

Suffolk County cops on Monday identified the skeletal remains as Melissa Barthelemy, 24, who lived in the Bronx; Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of North Babylon, L.I., and Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Conn.

It appears the seaside sicko may be hunting a certain type of prostitute - all three were tiny women under 5 feet and about 100 pounds.

August 12, 2013, New York Times:

From classifieds to display ads to subscriptions, the digital age has broken the financial pillars of print journalism, leaving the industry struggling to stand on its own.

But more frequently — and with a boom last week, when Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of, bought The Washington Post — the tycoons who have led the digital revolution are giving traditional print outlets a hand.

Call it a sense of obligation. Or responsibility. Or maybe there is even a twinge of guilt. Helping print journalism adapt to a changed era is becoming a cause du jour among the technology elite. … The founder of Craigslist, the free listing service that helped ruin newspapers’ classified advertising, helped finance a book on ethics for journalists.

Ethics for journalists! How wonderful. Are those ethics different than the ones that allow one to make $36 million per year on prostitution ads, thereby making it easier to give away for free the classified listings that were a major source of newspaper revenue? Just checking.

Alec MacGillis is a New Republic senior editor. Follow him @AlecMacGillis.