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Craigslist founder gives US$6m to Consumer Reports

New York

AN entrepreneur who made a fortune thanks to his digital disruption of the newspaper industry has joined forces with a fearsome non-profit watchdog publication that is expanding its coverage of the tech industry.

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, the online service that drained the classified advertising revenue that once fuelled the newspaper industry, has been a robust sponsor of US journalism in recent years.

Now, his foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, has given US$6 million to Consumer Reports, allowing it to keep a closer watch over digital products and platforms. It is the largest donation in the history of the organisation, which was established in 1936.

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Past beneficiaries of Mr Newmark's largesse have included New York Public Radio, a fledgling investigative site called The Markup and a New York-centric journalistic startup, The City. He also gave so much to the graduate journalism programme at the City University of New York - US$20 million - that it was renamed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.

Consumer Reports, a lion of public-service journalism that can claim, among other things, to have spread early awareness of the dangers of cigarettes in the 1950s, announced on Thursday the creation of a Digital Lab division. Built on the gift from Mr Newmark's foundation, the lab will be crash-testing not cars but the digital tools that have become a part of everyday life.

Marta Tellado, the Consumer Reports chief executive, said the lab would allow the publication, known for its rigorous, impartial critiques, to apply its long-standing principles to a new set of consumer problems.

"Companies like Google and Facebook have shown that while they are offering great conveniences, they aren't always policing themselves, and a lot of our laws are not keeping pace with innovations," she said.

The new Digital Lab is not the first foray by Consumer Reports into monitoring tech. In 2017, it led a consortium that established the so-called Digital Standard, a benchmark against which products can be measured. Samsung recently fixed certain smart televisions after Consumer Reports, applying the standard, found they could be hacked.

"Consumer Reports are the right people to continue doing the work they have always been doing," Mr Newmark said in an interview. "It's just that new technologies are more pervasive and invasive than other technologies." Consumer Reports, he added, "started doing this with smart TVs. I love TVs. I love watching TV", he said.

The gift is Mr Newmark's latest cash infusion meant to keep tech honest. Last year, the foundation announced a US$20 million investment in The Markup, a new non-profit site for investigative journalism on the industry.

That startup has yet to publish any work. It has also gone through turmoil as it endures an extended beta-mode period. Julia Angwin, one of the site's three founders and its former editor-in-chief, was ousted in April, and most of the editorial staff followed her out the door. Last month, Mr Newmark announced that the other two founders had departed. NYTIMES