has been in the news a lot lately. The mainstream media has
taken an apparent delight in chronicling the ways the online
classified service is destroying society. That guy who killed
a “masseuse” in Boston will forevermore be known as the “Craigslist
Killer,” as if Craigslist were little more than a steaming
cesspool of degrading sex and an accessory to murder. Politicians
are calling for Craigslist’s head, too, and newspapers are
all over this like hate on Republicans.
We’ll save the discussion about the morality of erotic services
What’s more interesting is the subtext of all this. Newspapers
are dying, and Craigslist is a big reason why. Why? Because
Craiglist is destroying newspapers’ classified ad revenue
stream. Why? Because Craiglist offers a service that is infinitely
better, faster, cheaper, and more efficient than newspaper
I’d never used Craigslist until last week. We’ve got a house
we’re looking to rent. I tried putting an ad in a big metropolitan
newspaper and was directed (after some surfing around the
newspaper’s hideous Web site) to an online inputting system.
It sucked. I mean, it was absolutely frustrating, and I wasn’t
sure when or if I was finished, except there was nothing else
to do but log off. The whole thing took me 20 long minutes,
and then, because there was no acknowledgement sent to me
via e-mail, I decided I’d better call the newspaper on the
telephone to make sure my ad got in all right.
For all this aggravation and $250, I got a little three-line
small-type advertisement that ran for a couple of days. The
promised opportunity to run a concurrent ad on the newspaper’s
Web site for free simply didn’t materialize, which was fine
with me because the Web site was horrible. The
response? Two telephone calls from salespeople at small, local
Jewish newspapers trying to sell me more ads.
So I tried a local advertising weekly. Remarkably, the Internet
interface was much better than that of the Big Newspaper (although
still no e-mail acknowledgement). The price was reasonable,
but the response was tepid. Most of the people that called
weren’t exactly what you’d call A-list prospective tenants.
Most seemed to think I’d take less than the advertised rent.
Great. I was starting to think there was no market out there
for the house.
Then I tried Craigslist. Duh! Posting an ad was follow-your-nose
simple. I could bold a bunch of words. I could post pictures.
I could shield my identity with a blind response option. I
was encouraged, a couple times, to proof my ad. I got an e-mail
acknowledgement (immediately) that asked me to proof it again
and then respond to publish the ad. The ad went online immediately.
It took a couple of minutes. It was satisfying. It was fun.
It was FREE.
And it was effective. I posted every morning for five days,
and every day I got at least four inquiries via e-mail. Surprisingly,
most came from a different area than where we’d assumed our
target market was, which was a revelation in itself. We’d
been barking up the wrong tree, and Craigslist set us straight.
Inside of five days, we got a deposit from some folks who
appear to be perfect tenants. It was the pictures that got
I have a writer friend who just posted a passionate plea on
Facebook, urging legislators to ban Craiglist in order to
save “the newspapers.” C’mon. Is Craigslist killing the newspapers
or is their death simply the result of technological evolution?
Or, more to the point, are newspapers killing themselves?
After my experience, I can’t fathom why anyone would put a
classified ad in the newspaper. I just had that dubious pleasure
and it bit. And newspapers aren’t where people go anymore
to get stuff.
It’s with this gloss that I look askance at the headlines
about the “Craigslist Killer” and the brouhaha about “erotic
services.” The inferences are wrong and disingenuous, the
hysteria shrill, and the journalistic conflict screamingly
obvious. Let’s blame Craigslist. Spare us the sanctimonious
bullshit, and report some real news. Or don’t. You’re going
down either way.
Maybe soon I’ll dismantle the argument that the newpaper’s
demise threatens the core of democracy and will leave us rudderless
to get our tainted information from unchecked online crackpots
For now I’ll just say give me a freakin’ break. I’ve got two
words for ya: Judith Miller. We’ll be fine.