Joel contends that Craig Newmark has, in effect, stolen classified advertising from the newspaper industry and made it something freely available to everyone. Advertising is the method newspapers use to fund professional journalism. But if people can advertise their stuff for free on the internet and reach a wide audience, they have no financial motivation to pay money to a newspaper to publish their ad in print. Instead, people are taking the money they would have spent on advertising and putting it to back into their businesses or their own wallets.
Professional journalism is something that keeps citizens informed and keeps governments transparent (or at least tries to). While it sounds like an appealing alternative to professional journalism, citizen journalism simply doesn’t work. Bloggers link to each other, tweeters retweet things they like. But amateurs simply don’t have the financial motivation that a professional has to do original research and report objectively. Citizen journalists simply aren’t doing justice to journalism. Their work is useful and relevant, but it just can’t replace professional journalism.
The net effect of Newmark’s decision not to charge for his service is that he’s taking all that advertising revenue out of the pockets of the newspapers and putting it back into the hands of the citizens or businesses, who do with it as they please. That means that a large sum of money is being taken away from an entity that performs a public service essential to a vibrant democracy and freedom of speech.
Newmark says he doesn’t know what he’d do with all that money. But Joel suggests that if Newmark doesn’t want the money, he should put it to use for some public good. After all, that’s where the money would have gone in the first place: the public good of investigative, professional journalism.