CRAIG NEWMARK is a web pioneer, philanthropist, and leading advocate on behalf of trustworthy journalism, veterans and military families, and other civic and social justice causes. In 1995, Craig started curating a list of San Francisco arts and technology events he emailed to friends and colleagues. People were soon calling it “Craig’s List,” and when Craig turned it into a company, he monetized minimally, opting for a business model that prioritized “doing well by doing good.” In 2016, he created the Craig Newmark Foundation to promote investment in organizations that effectively serve their communities and drive broad civic engagement at the grassroots level. In 2017, he became a founding funder and executive committee member of the News Integrity Initiative, ‐ administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which seeks to advance news literacy and increase trust in journalism.
What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
I feel my rabbi is Leonard Cohen, even though when I met him I was too tongue- tied to say anything. Anyway, I’ve given away a number of copies of his Book of Longing, since it articulates a sense of the compassionate and spiritual that I’ve found nowhere else. His work brings me closer to sensing the divine, and apparently that’s also true for millions across the globe.
It might be more accurate to say that his collected poetry and music constitute a book, in the Biblical sense. I’ve probably given away more Cohen CD collections than the physical books, prior to widespread streaming.
He uses the hummingbird as a metaphor for spiritual freedom, and as I write this, there’s an Anna’s hummingbird feeding maybe ten feet in front of me.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Throughout my career, my failure to recognize the need for effective communications has done me a lot of damage. In the first 20 years, at IBM and Charles Schwab, poor communications reinforced the perception that I’d be a poor team member. I’ve learned that inept communications or lack of communication can cause harm, sometimes the hard way.
However, in the last several years, I’ve come to understand how effective communication matters. Good works usually require an accurate perception thereof; without that, the means to continue those works might be withdrawn. Or worse, bad actors will interfere with that work, sometimes pointlessly prolonging human suffering.
Nowadays, I’m involved with a lot of nonprofits in areas that include women in tech, veterans and their families, and trustworthy, good-faith journalism. My help and grant-making require recipients to get smart about their own communications so that they can learn from my mistakes.
That’s my idea of the successful use of my own failure.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
Seems like all religions recognize the precept that you should “treat others as you want to be treated.” However, people normally kind of forget that early in their youth. In my work, I’m finding that a simple reminder helps people act in a more benevolent way. So, repetition, via literal or metaphorical billboard, no matter how naive seeming, can matter.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
I’ve grown to love seeing birds visit my house, and to attract them, I’ve put out birdbaths and feeders. The deal is that my wife and I do this, then the birds visit and pose for us. That’s to say that I can do all my birdwatching from inside.
[For someone who wants to try this] I’d recommend The Nuttery NT065 Classic Seed Feeder, Extra Large. It’s been really effective for attracting a range of small birds, like juncoes, chickadees, nuthatches, and finches. Some smarter larger birds like scrub jays (a kind of blue jay) and even an ambitious pigeon, can feed from it. It discourages squirrels.
At this point, the birds have trained us to feed them. In particular, a Western scrub jay has trained Mrs. Newmark to feed it suet, which is a big treat for them.
Now, when I walk to the train, a couple of ravens have started training me to feed them dog treats. (They seem to want to bring messages to Winterfell.)
Oh, that’s right, I love treating the neighbors’ dogs.
Also, I love playing with babies, mostly staring at each other and smiling. Drooling is also involved, and sometimes it’s the baby.