In his first major act of public philanthropy, The New York Times reported late today that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to donate $100 million to the public school system in Newark, N.J., a troubled and crime-ridden city across the Hudson River from New York. The formal announcement will reportedly come Friday on Oprah Winfrey's talk show, where Zuckerberg will be joined by Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who will formally cede some control of the Newark school system to Booker's municipal administration.
The article in the Times hints that it's the first donation in an education foundation that Zuckerberg, almost universally considered to be the world's youngest billionaire, is forming.
A Facebook spokesman told CNET by e-mail when asked for comment, "We don't have anything to announce at this time."
Zuckerberg's reasons for choosing the Newark public school system are not completely clear; he hails from the New York City metro area, but the Times reported that his connection to Newark derives from having met and connected with Booker, a young, charismatic, and high-profile reform politician.
Booker has gained international headlines for taking the reins in a city that many had declared beyond repair, as well as for promising to sweep out the corruption that had taken root in the Newark mayor's office over generations. In a lighter example of his unconventional, digitally savvy sense of publicity, Booker most recently made some entertainment news headlines for publicly chastising Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, a proudly over-the-top cast member of MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality show, when she posted to Twitter that she was stuck in Newark traffic. Booker replied to "Snooki" in another public tweet and asked where in town she was so that he could have her ticketed for texting while driving, citing the city's need for revenue.
But while Newark undoubtedly could use some help for its schools, and Booker is the kind of forward-thinking elected official who would appeal to an entrepreneur like Zuckerberg, some critics are pointing out that the timing of the entire announcement is a little too convenient.
Friday, the day on which Zuckerberg will reportedly appear on Oprah to formally announce the donation, is also the day of the New York Film Festival premiere of "The Social Network," the David Fincher-directed cinematic retelling of Facebook's early days. It's an unflattering portrait of Zuckerberg as a selfish egomaniac, and even worse for Facebook's image, it has been pulling in rave reviews and early Oscar buzz.