Alas, the Blockchain will not save journalism after all


The clamor around technology has led to incomprehensible applications.

Civil Media Company was introduced at the beginning of this year both as a multimedia platform and as a network, to be owned and managed by journalists and citizens interested in tandem. It was an exciting proposal. His technology (powered by the blockchain!) Would be stirred by dozens of independent editors, his machines create a new utopian model, free from the clutches of greedy businessmen or politically compromised publishers who threaten to undermine the works.

"We believe that the business model driven by advertisements is slowly killing good journalism – which is in itself a fundamental foundation for free and democratic societies," wrote one of the founders of the company, Matt Coolidge, in one of the many, many, many blog posts that have been written trying to explain Civil. "So we are introducing a new model."

Fundamental to the model was an option for readers: they could buy in Civil, with a cryptographic token specific to Civil, which would be somehow free journalists take advantage of "self-government" and "permanence", wrote Coolidge. With this funding, Civil would be able to exclude advertisers, clickbaiters and all the other bad actors so often accused of ruining journalism.

Civil brought his currency to the market in September for a month. In the end, it was less than the minimum number of chips he had hoped to sell over six million dollars. Of the approximately $ 1.4 million tokens that the company sold, approximately 80% was bought by ConsenSys – the blockchain software company that has signed Civil first. It was as if an Olympic weightlifter said that, at a minimum, he would be able to clean and shake 400 pounds, and then he could not move the bar more than an inch from the ground.

Civil representatives said they could help solve two media crises: one of trust and another of financial sustainability. Both, they hypothesized, were in the power of the blockchain to heal.

First financial sustainability: the editors of Civil (17 so far) are welcome traditional business models (like subscriptions, paid with dollars) and many, like the Colorado Sun, Block Club Chicago and Popula, an "alt-daily" with a worldly mentality, I chose to do it. But as citizens were convinced of the value of Civil as an editorial platform, they were able to join the network by purchasing token Civil. These would buy them a little bit of control, making them, essentially, shareholders. They could "tip" journalists with tokens or token portions, request stories or even suggest the creation of entire newsrooms dedicated to specific topics. As news organizations grew stronger – apparently, with the entry of reader-readers-citizens – others bought tokens, the value of the tokens would be increased, and the whole community, journalists and readers would thrive.

At the same time, civil representatives said, the much deplored if the problem of trust in journalism was almost perennial and even possibly invented, would be solved by the intrinsic function of blockchain technology as a database.

Vivian Schiller, former president and CEO of NPR and head of Twitter news, is now the CEO of the Civil Media Foundation, the organization charged with "supporting the principles of the network." She wrote, in a blog post, that Civil's websites would have an icon in the upper right corner that would function as a journalistic equivalent of the "Good Housekeeping seal of approval".

"We have a plug-in that allows you to sign your work," said Mathew Iles, CEO of the Civil Media Company, which is separate but connected to the foundation. "This is important: we will be able to show people that you actually wrote it ".

To be clear, the crisis of faith in the media did not arise from the confusion regarding the disputed identity of the authors of the blog posts. This was one of the many examples in which Civil suggested that if the concerns of the journalists themselves (approx the interference of publishers or the sudden erasure of digital archives), the wider problem of trust in the media would be facilitated.

"We think that by launching Civil, someone who thinks that the press is the enemy of the people, these people will suddenly go" oh I see the light "? Of course not," Mrs. Schiller said, before the sale of the token began. "But here's what we can do: if Civil is successful, it will allow people who are interested in trustworthy journalism, it will be a signal to them for which journalistic organizations meet the criteria."

Oh, and Civil would also become a social Network, one that would have opposed the power of large technology companies. Mr. Iles said he spent years watching Google and Facebook manipulate and take advantage of their media partners. "The first time I started to conceive Civil, I saw it as a Open editorial platform that had to be decentralized, "he said."Social media with rules."

So it would be like Facebook, but journalism, but on the blockchain?

"All cryptoeconomic public blockchains are indeed social applications," said Iles. "You need a group of people to agree to run it."

So: Civil is a media company that supports but also is a group of connected editors that is also a blockchain-based social network supported by tokens purchased by journalists.

People who are in a strong position to understand what Civil is doing – either because they are experts in blockchain technology or because they work for one of their editorial offices – have openly admitted that they do not understand how the organization works. The rate of such statements increased only with the sale of Civil tokens in September.

Journalists who manage civilian newsrooms continue to express trust in society. Larry Ryckman, the editor of the Colorado Sun, expressed his confidence and optimism in Civil several times in conversation a few days after the sale of the failed token in mid-October.

At the same time, he said, "We at Colorado Sun have never considered the value of tokens necessarily. We they were paid in dollars and our readers interact with us in dollars. "

At least one former employee believes that Civil was never built to succeed in the first place. Daniel Sieberg, one of the company's co-founders, who left in July, said the token was fatally imperfect.

"It's basically a locked box," he said. "The token is worthless.The simple fact is that the token is not necessary."

During the waning days of the sale, Mr. Iles said he did not feel chastised. He remained bullish on the future of Civil. He said he felt that the sale of tokens had been a misstep, because the organization had established a arbitrary value on the token. Above all, he said, the company could not explain itself clearly.

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