A Hollywood Ending? The Timing of Zuckerberg's $100 Million Donation to Newark Schools Debated at Facebook
The question is: Which movie was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinking about when he decided recently to fork over $100 million to public schools in Newark, New Jersey?
Was it a bid to spiff up his image–with a splashy announcement on Oprah Winfrey’s popular television talk show tomorrow?
That would be the very same day of the New York premiere of “The Social Network,” a movie that rakes the now-26-year-old Silicon Valley wunderkind over some very hot coals in the sordid tale of how he founded the powerful social networking site while at Harvard University.
Or was it actually the impact of another film, “Waiting for Superman,” a just-released gripping documentary about the crisis in public education?
It’s become a topic that has apparently become of great interest to Zuckerberg, as he has been considering his approach to big-time philanthropy in anticipation of huge wealth after Facebook eventually has its long-anticipated IPO.
In fact, said sources, the timing of the donation was hotly debated within the company, with worries that it would look like Zuckerberg was trying to counter the flood of negative press from “The Social Network.”
And for good reason.
After seeing a screening of the movie recently, MediaMemo’s Peter Kafka noted that “the film portrays him as an insecure jerk who screws over people and becomes a much-richer insecure jerk…He’s the bad guy in his own creation myth.”
In fact, said sources, Zuckerberg actually has been cooking up the deal since he and high-profile Newark Mayor Cory Booker started kibitzing over the idea while both attended the Allen & Co. conference in July.
From there, Zuckerberg decided it was best to flood the zone–in this case, the deeply troubled Newark school system, which had previously been taken over by the state.
Now, it will instead get a big dose of friending–um, funding–from a foundation that Zuckerberg is funding with $100 million worth of Facebook stock, which will be sold off in secondary markets as needed.
Sources said his interest in the area was apparently sparked by watching the up-and-down experience of his longtime girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, whose first job out of college was as a teacher. She is now a medical student.
It’s all an unusual bipartisan effort, with Zuckerberg working with the Democratic Booker and also New Jersey’s new Republican Governor Chris Christie.
The pair of politicians, who will formulate a plan, pushed for the announcement this particular week on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” in order to give the topic national attention.
Winfrey has been focusing on education reform this week on her show, and the Obama administration is reportedly going to do the same in the weeks ahead.
Thus, Zuckerberg himself decided to move forward now, sources said, apparently concluding that even if a prominent movie was portraying him as the villain, he did not have to act like one in real life.