Craig Newmark (Photo/Ian Gittler)
Craig Newmark (Photo/Ian Gittler)

Q&A: Craig Newmark likes to put his money where his mouth is — and then keep it shut

After Craigslist founder Craig Newmark stepped down as CEO of the classified ads website in 2000, he began turning his attention to the nonprofit world. Two decades later, he is one of the top Jewish philanthropists in the United States.

In 2015, he established Craig Newmark Philanthropies. His largest gifts have included a 2023 pledge of $100 million to veterans and military families, a 2022 pledge of $50 million to Cyber Civil Defense and a 2018 gift of $20 million to endow the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, now named the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Newmark, who grew up in New Jersey, lives in New York City with a home in San Francisco. He is also a significant donor to J.

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, CEO of J., recently caught up with Newmark. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

J.: You’ve said you plan to give away all — or at least most — of your money before you die. Why?

Craig Newmark: Ultimately it has to do with the way my moral compass was set by Mr. and Mrs. Levin in Sunday school in Morristown, New Jersey. They taught me that you should treat people like you want to be treated, you should know when enough is enough and you should act as your brother’s or sister’s keeper.

Recently, I’ve also been reflecting on the ninth commandment on not bearing false witness and how it applies to news and politics.

You are referring to disinformation in the news. What can we do about it?

I don’t know. I’ve funded a lot of efforts to mitigate this. It’s a kind of warfare that seeks to hurt us as a country.

Right now, a lot of our readers are having a hard time getting accurate information about what’s happening in Israel.  When breaking news is happening, where do you go to find accurate information?

I’m patient until I see news reports from reliable sources like the New York Times or Washington Post. I subscribe to a news service, Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire. And he, with some patience, excerpts a few paragraphs from articles that seem to be accurate. I know when things happen, there will be a news vacuum during which people will lie to us.

In 2010, I was brought into the West Wing by [Obama senior adviser] Valerie Jarrett, who tried to help me understand that no honest person is a match for someone who lies for a living. If you get good at communications, you get targeted by bad actors looking for a fight. Sometimes good actors are compromised by bad actors with a good story.

Do you use social media?

Yes, I support teachers via “teacher Twitter” [now X]. I’ll use Mastodon, Bluesky and Threads to get the word out on things that matter. I do listen to people through it. More and more I’m using LinkedIn for social media.

I see you’ve been putting out a regular newsletter on LinkedIn.

I’ve decided to recapture the term “patriotism.” People don’t always mean patriotism when they use that phrase. It was abused during Vietnam, and the term fell out of fashion among serious patriots. But I can only explain what I’m about using that term. In high school history, in my senior year, Mr. Schulzki helped me understand how important the Bill of Rights is, how important a trustworthy press is.

Cybersecurity is another one of your areas of interest. You’ve said you support cybersecurity to keep us safe from digital threats. Can you explain to our readers what kinds of digital threats you are worried about on a national level? 

There are hostile countries, our adversaries, that seek to weaken us by doing things like ransomware. They extort funds. They attack our water, electrical supplies. Internet devices include our cars, factory automation systems, [smart] ovens. If a hostile government wants to attack an ally, they can compromise our response by going after those things. Lots of small disruptions make big disruptions.

How can we individuals protect ourselves? Who should we support who is doing this kind of work?

I am working with the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency. They protected the election in 2020. They have an evolving program that is called Secure Our World, and they talk about measures we can use to protect ourselves like strong passwords, multifactor authentication and keeping our systems up to date. When your phone says, “Update me,” do it. Often those updates are security updates.

I know you have been concerned about rising antisemitism. How have you addressed that through your charitable giving?

Right now, for the most part, I work with the ADL because they have been the most successful group to reduce antisemitism. They know what they are doing. I also express concerns [about antisemitism]. But I also do one of the best things I can do, which is to keep my mouth shut. You have to leave some things to professionals and stay out of their way.

But you haven’t stopped talking — and we’re glad.

I’m careful, and I try to say things that can’t be twisted by a bad actor. My rabbi tells me I have to speak out, so I follow up. My rabbi is [the late singer-songwriter] Leonard Cohen. He’s not preaching very much anymore, but maybe that doesn’t matter.

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser
Jo Ellen Green Kaiser

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser is the CEO of J. The Jewish News of Northern California.