"It is not just about Bitcoin or just about cryptocurrency, it touches anything from journalism, to identity, to real estate, to healthcare. I think we're starting to see a broader acceptance and understanding that there might be something to this whole blockchain thing."
Matt Coolidge is the co-founder of Civil, a decentralised journalism marketplace on blockchain due to open to the public this spring. Coolidge spoke to Journalism.co.uk in a recent podcast to share insights into the platform, which recently received $5 million in funding from ConsenSys.
While most would automatically associate blockchain with Bitcoin, the technology's possible applications cover many other industries. New data is added to the blockchain in a secure and transparent way, making it a potentially valuable way of creating and storing, for example, medical records.
Civil's use of blockchain technology unlocks two key benefits for journalists publishing on the platform: permanence and self-governance.
"Being able to permanently archive content is understandably a very existential question. Looking at the US's DNAinfo and Gothamist story, at the fact that a billionaire owner suddenly decided it was not a profitable sustainable line of business and decided to pull the plug on the archives – and with that, eight years of local journalism focused on the New York and Chicago markets were gone.
"It took a massive outcry from the community to just restore the servers that were saving that data. In a blockchain-based model this type of phenomenon would be nearly impossible to achieve. Because of blockchain's decentralised nature, there is not one single point of failure," Coolidge explained.
The platform also has a underlying economic incentive model to promote quality journalism, he added. As a reader, there are several levels of engagement available once a newsroom has piqued someone's interest. Financial support can be offered through Civil in various currencies, of which the platform does not take a cut.
But those who wish to get more involved with the inner workings of the platform and go 'below the waterline' can also purchase Civil tokens, which can be used to then weigh in on decisions being taken or to challenge applications from new newsrooms wishing to join.
These tokens will soon be available on the Civil website, and while the team has not yet decided how to price them, the aim is to ensure they are pricey enough to deter spammers and trolls, but not too expensive that they become inaccessible.
This token is primarily a "utility token necessary for the governance of the platform", explained Coolidge, and it can be exchanged once no longer desired by a certain user.
Civil has put together its "first fleet" of newsrooms, supported by a $1 million grant. The launch publications include Windy City Reporter, a daily alternative to the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, that aims to provide "everything a newspaper used to provide but no longer does"; Drugged Up, reporting from hard-hit places mixed with policy coverage from Washington D.C. to Big Pharma headquarters; and Popula, which describes itself as an alternative news and culture publication written for those naturally sceptical of institutions and authorities.
Conversations with journalists about the potential of blockchain for innovation in the media industry have largely changed over the past few months, said Coolidge, as people become more aware of the technology and its potential benefits. But an in-depth knowledge of or interest in blockchain and cryptocurrencies is not required to get involved.
"Our core value proposition when we're going to speak to journalists is that we are trying to introduce a new funding model for journalism.
"Our mission is journalism. Our goal is to make good journalism as accessible as possible for as many people as possible. To do so and to assume a working knowledge of or passion for blockchain or cryptocurrency, it would be anathema to our goal."
Free daily newsletter
- Lucy Kueng, senior research associate at RISJ, on leading digital transformation in an age of disruption
- Newsrewired: early-bird bookings now open
- Financial Times' three-step plan to drive subscriptions
- How to take your audience engagement up a notch in a pandemic: #NISAudience takeaways
- Julie Posetti: post-pandemic journalism will be 'more mission-driven, public service-focused, and audience-centred'