Posts tagged Burlington

Constitutive means (or: community-building bullshit)

(Link thanks to Anil Dash 2006-02-03.)

Here’s Tim Redmond, of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, on why he’s cheesed off about the ever-expanding Craigslist:

A little background. Mr. Newmark, whom everyone calls Craig, has created a system of online advertising that has pretty much wiped out traditional daily newspaper classified ads in many of the 115 US markets where he now operates. He’s also hurt the alternative press, although the damage to the dailies is deeper. Some say Craig has single-handedly destroyed thousands of newspaper jobs.

Frankly, that’s a little silly: The guy figured out how to do something that the newspapers weren’t doing, and they were way too late in responding, and he got their money, and that’s how capitalism works.

But Craig still annoys me, and here’s why:

Over and over in his brief speech, he talked about building community. He acted as if Craigslist was some sort of nonprofit with lofty goals and he a humble servant of the people who wants only to help improve human communications.

The problem with that is simple: When Craig comes to town (and he’s coming to just about every town in the nation soon), the existing community institutions — say, the locally owned weekly newspaper — have a very hard time competing. In many ways, he’s like a Wal-Mart — yeah, landlords get cheaper real estate ads, and consumers find some bargains, but the money all goes out of town. And he puts nothing back into the community: He doesn’t, for example, hire reporters or serve as a community watchdog.

Here’s the question I asked him:

How, exactly, does a San Francisco outfit moving into, say, Burlington, Vt. and threatening to eviscerate the local alternative newspaper, help build community? If he’s such an altruist, why does he have to keep expanding like a typical predatory chain? We all get the need for online ads and community sites now; why not let the folks in Burlington (or wherever) build their own? Why not (gasp) help them, instead of using his clout to hurt them?

— Tim Redmond, San Francisco Bay Guardian (2006-02-01): Editor’s Notes

So, to keep the score straight, let’s keep in mind that helping people to find a job in town, or helping people who have something to sell get in touch with other people in their town willing to buy it, doesn’t count as putting anything back into the community. Also, be sure to remember that getting the word out about shows, fundraisers, parties, or other events going on in town doesn’t count as building community, and neither does helping people to meet other people in town with common interests, jobs, hobbies, or passions. Real community, after all, is defined by its ability to keep professional editorialists like Tim Redmond employed, and by whether or not they print and distribute an alternative newsweekly tabloid, like the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Next week: where will we find jobs for all the candle-makers?