The Baruch Performing Arts Center hosted a discussion titled “The Internet’s Challenges to Ethical Journalism” on Wednesday, Feb. 15. The event featured Craig Newmark, pioneer, philanthropist, speaker and the founder of Craigslist, along with Baruch professors Michael Bobelian and Andrea Gabor.
The talk began with an explanation of journalistic ethics in the modern age. The three speakers revealed that ethics have always been a challenge to journalists. The news industry has been in turmoil due to financial difficulties, globalization, new technology and the emergence of the internet. They stressed that journalism should be a fact-based enterprise, but the lines between news coverage and commentary have blurred.
Bobelian and Gabor said that it is healthy to hear a non-journalist’s views. Newmark is the perfect candidate for the job, due to his interest in the press and promoting journalists.
Newmark began the discussion by providing an overview of Craigslist’s history. It started 22 years ago during Newmark’s time in San Francisco. On March 1, 1995, Newmark sent out a mailing list that supplied information on the city’s art and science events. Craigslist was incorporated as a for-profit organization in 1999 and began charging $10 an ad.
Newmark started working with non-profits 15 years ago and has helped around 100 of them since then.
“Last year I put time and resources into voting rights and helping veterans,” Newmark revealed. “I also support women in tech, and I am sponsoring the next round of the Women’s Start-Up Challenge.”
Newmark transitioned into a seminar on journalism by saying that as a news consumer he wants news that he can trust. He believes that a news organization can admit that is trustworthy by publishing a code of ethics that highlights itsdiversity and accountability.
“I support sites like PolitiFact because they are following guidelines, and we need to restore that traditional journalism ethic,” he said.
The professors began by asking Newmark some preliminary questions. Gabor first inquired about can be done to combat alternative facts.
“It is demoralizing to see internet users being harassed,” Newmark replied. “There are a lot of people in the communications field that are smarter than I am. So I find these people—Sun Life Financial, International Center for Academic Integrity, CUNY Graduate Center, Columbia Journalism, NYU—and I support them.”
Bobelian followed up with a question on what factors Newmark examines when looking to lend his support, and whether he evaluates past records or goes by his intuition. Newmark responded that he tries to choose non-profits carefully, saying that non-profits is that the most effective ones are poor at communicating. Thus, he has maintained close relationships with people he has known for years. This answer provoked an additional discussion on sites such as Facebook and Google. Newmark’s opinion was that these sites are distributors, not entities. He proposed that articles should have a link to their ethics and diversity code.
“Organizations should be faithful to a virtuous code, so Facebook should understand what they need to do,” Newmark communicated.
The focus then turned to the audience, who was given the chance to voice its questions. One student mentioned how journalists are now confronted with an industry where publications write what people want to hear instead of reality. Newmark emphasized that they need to be devoted to honest principles, citing that President Donald Trump’s senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, fabricated a “massacre” as validation for Trump’s Muslim ban.
“CNN propagated something they knew was a lie,” Newmark proclaimed.
He further suggested that organizations should have fact-checking professionals to block trolls and praised The New Yorker for having a separate fact-checking department.
The event began to wrap up when Bobelian and Gabor asked their last questions to Newmark regarding his philanthropy and final thoughts on fact-checking. Newmark mentioned he was involved with DonorsChoose, a charity that permits individuals to donate to public school classrooms. After Betsy DeVos, who denounced public schools as a “dead-end,” was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education, he shifted focus onto Detroit public schools. He also divulged that one can assess a newspaper’s honesty by how often it corrects its mistakes.
The event concluded with a message for journalists. While 57 percent of eligible voters voted in the past election, journalists can be catalysts for change because they can write about and expose the opportunities offered.