Craigslist Founder Pledges $100M to Vets’ Causes, but Pulls $$$s from THE CITY News Site

Craig Newmark is partnering with the Bob Woodruff Foundation and Blue Star Families to tackle veterans’ mental health. At the same time, he allegedly reduced his direct financial commitment to THE CITY, a nonprofit publication facing a mounting budget crisis.

| 15 Dec 2023 | 08:12

Craigslist is not the only thing named after its founder Craig Newmark. There’s also the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, which took a $20 million donation from the internet entrepreneur to smooth the path for its foundation. The journalism school is but one of several journalistic institutions and organizations that have received his largesse over the last two decades, including National Public Radio, the Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University, and THE CITY, a nonprofit publication.

Now, in a sign of shifting philanthropic priorities, Newmark has pledged $100 million to a coalition of organizations that support U.S. military veterans and their families. The bulk of that money, according to Newmark, is meant to provide veterans with mental health resources. Despite his working with veterans’ groups for over 15 years, this donation marks an unprecedentedly large commitment on his part.

“I figured that if someone is going overseas and willing to take a bullet to protect me, I should do something for them,” Newmark said.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation and Blue Star Families, nonprofits dedicated to supporting veterans, are helping Newmark in his newest push. “We work together to prioritize the most urgent issues [veterans] are facing, and we look at what role philanthropy can play in making a difference that is not duplicative or redundant to the efforts that the federal government and our advocacy partners provide,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, CEO of BWF. Newmark, who serves on its board of directors, credited Dougherty and BWF with spearheading the efforts. “I don’t have the real experience that Anne Marie and her team has, and they can do a lot of heavy lifting,” he said. “I help support them with cash, I bug people to get the word out, and I do my best to make sure I stay out of the way.”

In the end, they decided that the most urgent issue was mental health, which affects at least 1 in 5 veterans in the United States and includes PTSD, depression, and anxiety. According to Dougherty, veterans are 57 percent more likely to die by suicide than their civilian counterparts. “Solving mental health would help with issues like homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment, childcare, and others,” she explained. To alleviate the mental health crisis among veterans, Newmark and Dougherty have prioritized increasing the number of trained mental health care providers within the Veterans Affairs department and across the United States.

The money going towards this cause seems to be another cause’s loss, as nonprofit newsrooms that subsist largely on donor generosity struggle against economic headwinds. According to the news site Semafor, Craig Newmark Philanthropies reduced its support for THE CITY this year to just $10,000—this comes after several years of appearing in THE CITY’s funders list under the category of those who have given between $2,000,000 to $4,000,000. Other donors are also pulling out—the Ford Foundation, which is listed under the $100,000 to $499,999 category, did not renew its annual grant this year. These reductions presumably contributed to THE CITY’s $1.5 million funding drop this year, which has forced management to put its reporters on a four-day workweek, amounting to a 15 percent pay cut. Semafor also reported that THE CITY overestimated their budget and made new hires that they later realized they could not afford.

On December 1, Executive Director Nic Dawes sent out a plea for readers to help the news organization with its end-of-year fundraising campaign, which started in the beginning of November. “We’re halfway through our crucial end-of-year campaign, but less than halfway towards our goal,” he said. “If you’ve ever relied on THE CITY for information about your neighborhood, your mayor, elections, public transit, or the issues you talk about at the office or with friends... please donate today, so we can keep providing that information for many years to come.”

THE CITY’s woes are shared by other news organizations like New York Public Radio, which laid off 40 employees, about 12 percent of its staff, after management and SAG-AFTRA failed to reach an agreement over how to plug the holes in their budget. Unlike their counterparts at THE CITY, executives at NYPR declined to take a pay cut, though they did relinquish a part of their bonuses.

Newmark maintains that his re-focus on veterans’ mental health does not mean he has abandoned his journalistic philanthropy—instead he insists he is deputizing his causes after setting up the infrastructure in past years. “I’ve created a network, and I ask people to do a lot of the work, giving them power that people normally grasp and hold on to and I do what I can to get out of the way,” he said. He also keeps in regular contact with people in the journalism world, including Joel Simon, the Director of the Journalism Protection Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, who Newmark says is handling his efforts to protect journalists from harassment.

THE CITY did not provide additional comment.