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When Sue Gardner decided to leave the Wikimedia Foundation in 2013 after shepherding the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia through a time of significant growth, it was because she was becoming increasingly worried about where technology was headed. Five years later, as the world’s biggest tech firms face mounting questions about issues ranging from data security to election meddling and the manipulation of information, more and more people share her anxiety.

“There is a lot of healthy skepticism that paves the way for something like The Markup,” Ms. Gardner said of the nonprofit news website she is launching with former ProPublica journalists Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson. The site’s mission is to conduct investigative journalism that explores technology’s impact on the world.

Ms. Angwin and Mr. Larson, who will be editor-in-chief and managing director of The Markup respectively, are well-known for investigating tech companies, including a project in 2016 that showed how Facebook’s ad targeting allowed discriminatory practices, such as excluding people by race for housing ads and by age for job listings. The New York-based site will hire 24 more journalists and plans to begin publishing in the first few months of 2019.

For the Canadian Ms. Gardner, joining The Markup as executive director brings her back to journalism after leaving a 17-year career at the CBC to join Wikimedia in 2007.

“It was an era of optimism,” she said. “...We felt we were poised on the cusp of this information revolution. Since then, what we’ve seen is that the internet has turned into something that is kind of a combination of a shopping mall and a panopticon. We wish that it was being used to make ordinary people’s lives better, but that’s not how it’s played out.”

The issues that the site will explore include how technology enables differential pricing and financial predation; its impact on the criminal justice system; and its effect on the labour market, she said.

The site has donations of US$20-million from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark’s philanthropic organization, US$2-million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and US$1-million combined from the Ford Foundation, the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. That funding will carry the site for about two years, Ms. Gardner estimates, during which she will hire a head of revenue to develop a plan for long-term sustainability. She expects that will include asking for small donations from readers.

Donations are increasingly seen as a source of revenue for nonprofit and for-profit news organizations: The Guardian and the New York Times, for example, launched nonprofit initiatives last year to seek philanthropic funding for their investigative journalism. ProPublica is a nonprofit that last year had more than 34,000 donors.

In Canada, the federal government said in its most recent budget that it would explore granting charitable status to news organizations, which would allow them to receive tax-deductible donations to support journalism projects. Quebec’s La Presse recently converted to a not-for-profit with a $50-million donation from its former owner, a business unit of Power Corp., controlled by the Desmarais family.

“Hopefully in the future we’ll figure out ways of sustaining journalism that don’t rely on small numbers of wealthy people. We can hopefully figure out a way that ordinary people will be willing to pay the cost. But until they do, people like Craig [Newmark] stepping into the breach is really important,” Ms. Gardner said.

Mr. Newmark’s Craigslist delivered a blow to news outlets' classified ad revenues by offering a free online service – one of the many ways the Internet disrupted an advertising model on which newspapers relied for so long. He has given more than US$60-million in philanthropic support for journalism, including donations to The Markup, ProPublica, Mother Jones, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and others.

“A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy,” Mr. Newmark said in an interview, crediting a high school history teacher with teaching him that lesson. He added that he was motivated to support The Markup’s coverage of the technology industry. “Tech is having a lot of positive consequences, but also a lot of unintended and potentially negative consequences. We all need to pay attention.”

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