Craigslist sued for prostitution ads, Seattle PI may be going digital

March 9, 2009

I found two items today in Bulldog Reporter of interest. One, Craigslist is being sued by Cook County, Illinois for allegedly being the biggest source of prostitution in the country. The other is about the Seattle PI, owned by Hearst, shutting down as a daily and considering going to an online only version.

What do the two have in common? The newspaper industry is in shambles and Craigslist is undoubtedly one significant reason. The revenues from classified advertising have long been a major source of funding for newspapers, helping to keep the journalists paid, along with display advertising of course. Nothing has impacted classifieds like online classifieds and craigslist more than any. The fact that they are mostly free and extremely effective (I’ll testify to that) makes it a no-brainer to shift from newspaper classifieds to craigslist.

Craigslist is one of the real darlings of the Internet age. The ethos of founder Craig Newmark has been almost universally hailed. I heard him speak as a keynoter at the PRSA conference in Detroit and the crowd absolutely loves his humility, his aw shucks I’m just a Customer Service Representative message, and almost everything about him.

I suspect the Internet crowd will flock to the defense of Craigslist relating to this charge of promoting and supporting prostitution. Newmark in my mind pretty well captures of the ethos of the Internet crowd with his political inclinations and libertarianism. But what I’m wondering is if the aura of almost mystical awe surrounding Mr. Newmark and Craigslist will continue. If you are wondering what I mean, here is an example article from Capital Valley that carries the headline about Newmark–“humble but awesome.”

It is probably seen as part of his humility that he disavows any connection to the problems of the newspaper industry. Here is his comment from the above mentioned article:

With regard to his effect on newspaper classified revenues, the myth that Craigslist is killing them is just that, a myth, says Newmark.

I guess what I’m suggesting is that given the realization of the impact on the media business, given the lawsuit and growing public awareness of what might be considered the seedier side of Craigslist, I’m not certain if the continuing aw shucks humility of Mr. Newmark will be enough to protect and enhance a stellar reputation. I certainly am not suggesting that people will start refusing to take advantage of this powerful free service. But I am suggesting that the door may be opening for some competition that takes a little different view on some of these things.

It will be interesting to see how Craigslist and Mr. Newmark respond to these growing challenges. They failed the first test as no one was available for comment.


2 Responses to “Craigslist sued for prostitution ads, Seattle PI may be going digital”

  1. Gerald, a couple of points I wanted to make about your craigslist (it is lower-case first letter, fyi) commentary. And I have to qualify myself, first, as being a consultant to craigslist.

    It’s an urban myth that craigslist has made any significant contribution to the demise of newspapers, as much as the latter would like someone to blame but themselves. craigslist “competes” only against small, no graphics classified listings. But the main drop in newspaper advertising revenue is from big display advertisers, the 1/4 pg, 1/2 pg, full page ads, the huge inserts, etc. In an age when so many like to receive much more “active” and multi-dimensional advertising via Internet and TV, two-dimensional newspaper advertising isn’t as appealing. Add to that the economic downturn and it’s bye-bye to a lot of papers.

    Second, craigslist’s responses re the Sheriff’s lawsuit were picked up quite widely, even if the original coverage occurred when no one could be reached. You can view craigslist’s entire response in two blog posts at

    All my best,

    Jonathan Bernstein
    Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.

  2. It’s funny how has done this, but what is even funnier is that there are still relevant ads like this on Recently I found and did searches to find that there are still hundreds of thousands of ads posted that should not be…lol

    Craig Patterson

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