Craiglist founder Craig Newmark is giving $20 million to help launch a nonprofit news site dedicated to investigating the societal effects of technology, the New York Times reports.
Co-founded by ProPublica journalists Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson and former Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner, The Markup will explore three broad investigative categories: how profiling software discriminates against the poor and other vulnerable groups; Internet health and "infections" such as bots, scams, and misinformation; and the growing power of tech companies. As is the case at ProPublica, the site will release all stories under a Creative Commons license.
In addition to the gift from Newmark, the site, which plans to hire two dozen journalists for its New York office, has raised $2 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and a total of $1 million from the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative.
While the success of Craigslist was a key factor in the decimation of print newspapers' main source of revenue, classified advertising, Newmark has recently made substantial donations to journalistic institutions, including $20 million to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. "Sometimes it takes an engineer a while to understand that we need help, then we get that help, and then we do a lot better," said Newmark. "We need the help that only investigative reporting with good data science can provide."
At ProPublica, Angwin — who was part of a Wall Street Journal team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for coverage of corporate corruption — partnered with programmers and data scientists to study big tech's algorithms, shedding light on how companies like Facebook were creating tools that could be used to promote racial bias, fraudulent schemes, and extremist content. Larson, a data journalist, worked with Angwin to investigate the algorithms of criminal sentencing software, which subsequently was shown to be racially biased.
"Increasingly, algorithms are used as shorthand for passing the buck," said Larson. "We don't have enough people to look at parole decisions, so we're going to pass it on to the computer and the computer is going to decide, and once they go into production, there's no oversight."
Angwin told the Times she hoped the stories The Markup takes on will lead to better government and corporate policies. "We are a numbers-driven data society," she said. "That's the price of entry these days for political change — a data set."