Column: Free to Love Craigslist

Once an enemy, online classifieds site gains a fan
Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

[Editor's note: Jo Mathis was a columnist and reporter for The Ann Arbor News until it closed in July 2009.]

Many factors led to the shutdown of The Ann Arbor News one year ago, and most begin with a capital I.

Because of the Internet, Google became a verb that allowed instant, round-the-clock information, much of which was provided free of charge by newspapers that nonetheless expected people to continue paying for the print version.

Because of the Internet, there are endless ways to fill free time, which meant the daily newspaper became less and less a necessary part of people’s routine.

Because of the Internet, advertisers – by far our main source of income – could reach more targeted audiences at a much lower cost. (A snippy subscriber once said the only reason she got the paper was for the Meijer ads. I wanted to ask, “Haven’t you heard of”)

And because of the Internet, a nerd named Craig Newmark was able to start a little thing called Craigslist, which put a deadly dagger into classified sections everywhere.

Craigslist was the reason The Ann Arbor News paid more to run a classified advertising department than it took in on classified ads, and one of the reasons that a once healthy newspaper began to look eerily anorexic as the few of us left ran around trying to figure out what else we could do to save it.

When I worked at The News, Craigslist was the enemy. Though Newmark blames the fall on greedy newspaper chains demanding high profit margins, Craigslist was one of the big reasons we were in a downward spiral and the mood in the newsroom mimicked the sad shade of blue on the walls.

Craigslist was the devil.

I secretly thought Craigslist was a great grassrootsy idea, and that classified advertisements were far too expensive. But I am nothing if not loyal to my employer, so Craigslist was on my diss list.

Now that I am free from the flailing industry – and all the stress of worrying about its demise – I am free to love Craigslist.

I love the way Craigslist is open to everybody with computer access at no charge. I love how it meets people’s needs for jobs and rides and housing and drapes, and how it offers a glimmer of hope to the lovestruck woman wondering about the cute guy wearing a green shirt at Whole Foods.

I love how it’s good for some giggles.

And I appreciate that Craig Newmark is a philanthropist who lives his values and is actually helping make sure that investigative journalism thrives. (Maybe he’ll write a big ol’ check to The Ann Arbor Chronicle, another site that was once upon a time The Enemy.)

Craigslist makes room for stuff that was never found in the classifieds, which means there’s something for everyone.

Denice Jones of Saline Township doesn’t own a car, so she’s currently running an ad for someone to drive her to the laundromat or grocery store. So far, she’s gotten only one response that didn’t work out. But Craigslist has helped her find work; her daughter, a place to live; and her brother, some chickens.

“I just like how it’s all free,” she said.

Like a bottle of Kaopectate, you may not use Craigslist on a regular basis. But it’s good to know it’s there when you need it.

Derek Duncan of Tucson hopes to move to Ann Arbor, and is smart enough to realize what could happen when he gets here. He could be lonely. He could wake up not knowing a single person and ache with mover’s remorse.

So he wrote an ad on Craigslist seeking friends.

“I placed the ad because I have always dreamed of moving to Michigan,” he told me via e-mail, noting that his dad is a University of Michigan graduate and he’s always dreamed of becoming a Wolverine himself. “I’m dead set on moving up there. I thought it would be a good idea to try and make some friends as extra motivation.”

He’s saving money for the big move to the state he finds so beautiful – from the fall colors to the ocean-like lakes, to the throw-back feeling of Mackinac Island.

“My friends think it’s pretty weird that Michigan has always been a type of Utopia to me,” he wrote. “They can’t see past the images portrayed in the media because they have never been there.”

Michigan needs people like Derek Duncan, so I hope he makes it here. And when he does, I hope he finds new friends, a nice apartment, fulfilling work, the love of his life – and his cat, if it runs away.

Here’s to Derek and the connections he’ll make on Craigslist Ann Arbor. May those encounters be productive for all.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer. Her columns appear monthly in The Chronicle.


  1. By Joan Kauffman
    July 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm | permalink

    Love that last sentence!

  2. By Name
    July 29, 2010 at 12:56 pm | permalink

    Nicely written.