While the journalism community is slowly starting to take note of blockchain, for many it is still a mystery.
But there is more to this technology than just Bitcoin, and an increasing number of startups use blockchain to address some of the biggest problems journalists face today, like misinformation or lack of trust in the media brands.
Daniel Sieberg, CEO of iO and principal iO Ventures, who co-founded the community-own journalism network Civil, said that blockchain, in a nutshell, is simply another way to use the Internet.
“Internet is a technological construct we all take largely for granted,” said Sieberg.
“The way the Internet is distributed connects all of us like two tins and a string.”
Sieberg explained that when the world wide web was created, it came up with ‘centralised nodes’ that became entities we know today, for example Google, or Facebook, but also Journalism.co.uk or the New York Times.
The problem with these centralised nodes is that we rely on a third party to perform even the simplest tasks like, for example, sending an email.
When you send a message to a person, you do not send it directly to them — you send data to your email company, for example Outlook or Gmail, who then sends it to the recipient.
“All blockchain is, is a new way of thinking of how to unpack these centralised nodes that exist thanks to world wide web,” he added.
“The important thing here is to remember that the Internet and world wide web are two different things."
The idea of decentralising our devices and connect them in a different way than through websites also helps address concerns like lack of trust or proving user’s identity.
“We can reimagine what it means to have a password, a login, what it is like to have an identity that is not stored somewhere centrally but that is something you own,” explains Sieberg.
One tech startups, Proof, is trying to create timestamps that will help users verify where the content comes from, who and where created and uploaded it, and see its history.
This way, audiences do not have to rely on a journalist when considering whether a piece of information is authentic, they will be able to check themselves.
Another startup, Pressland uses blockchain to help increase transparency in the journalism sector. It tracks and records the whole journey of a piece of content, from the reporter to fact-checker to editor and the publisher. Press.land hopes that by increasing transparency around how information is obtained, edited and dispersed, they will increase audiences’ trust in the media brands.
The aim of the blockchain technology is to create tools that ultimately serve a concrete purpose and the fact that these tools use blockchain is secondary.
"The short answer to 'What is blockchain?' It's the Internet, in a smaller, more decentralised way,” said Sieberg.
Another advantage of blockchain is that it offers the possibility of rewarding users with monetary incentives, usually in a form of cryptocurrency. For example, a blockchain-powered platform for content publishing Publiq offers its users rewards in the form of PBQ tokens for producing or diffusing content.
Sieberg said that one of the greatest advantages of the technology is that when you create a blockchain, you can always add another block and build a chain that helps you trace piece of data to its original source.
If a publisher needs to make a correction, instead of just overwriting the original content, it will allow any corrections to the original content to be searched and viewed.
Sieberg admitted that the aim of blockchain is not to make publishing perfect; the technology will solve some problems and perhaps create others.
But blockchain can help us address some of the biggest problems media organisations are battling with today, like misinformation, lack of accountability and difficulty to establish authorship.
Still wondering why should journalists care about blockchain? Find out more at Newsrewired on 6 March at Reuters, London.