Journalism was late to adapt to technology and is now paying the price. A week doesn’t go buy without notice of mass layoffs at name publications. Advertiser preferences are shifting to digital and revenue is declining.
And yet quality journalism is needed now more than ever to serve as a check against governments and individuals acting against the public interest. That journalism takes time and money to produce results, so it is often an early victim of cuts while clickbait and other easily digestible content survives.
Some of the newest technology offers a solution to this problem, Matt Coolidge believes. Mr. Coolidge is the co-founder and communications lead for Civil, a marketplace for sustainable journalism launching this spring. It is a response to the traditional, ad-driven revenue model that is being threatened in the digital age.
Journalism needs a new revenue model, as the ad-driven one has been in decline for two decades, Mr. Coolidge said. Its impact is acutely felt in local investigative and international focus journalism, two areas that require significant time and resources to produce effective results. That is why Civil focuses on those sectors, he added.
“Our big thesis is readers can and will support quality journalism,” Mr. Coolidge said. “What Civil is trying to do with the platform’s economic model is rethink the way people support journalism.”
Once publications earn access to Civil’s platform, they begin operating in the Business Center, from which they manage workforce permissions, public account information, finances and visual brand identity. They can also review performance analytics and define and price editorial products (Only some of those features will be available at the initial launch but Civil will continually offer in-demand tools that allow newsrooms to experiment with new business models).
The content management system allows journalists to permanently publish text directly to the blockchain by checking a box. The user interface is built as a dApp on Ethereum.
Civil also employs media literacy techniques designed to increase readers’ abilities to ask critical questions about the quality and accuracy of the content they consume. Credibility indicators clearly describe the different elements that went into a particular story such as original reporting, on-the-ground reporting, and the reporter’s knowledge level on the subject.
The Ethereum blockchain makes Civil possible, Mr. Coolidge said. The custom token CVL, based on the ERC protocol, is a value stored in a decentralized database managed by Civil’s smart contract. The smart contract facilitates interactions between CVL and the platform and serves as the basis for self-governance and permanence.
All CVL token holders can access Civil’s token-curated registry, which is the whitelist of newsrooms approved to publish on Civil. All newsrooms must sign Civil’s Journalism Ethics Guideline and pledge to uphold Civil’s conduct code. Token holders can challenge content and producers if they have issues with accuracy. By putting up their tokens it discourages specious complaints and allows consumers to indicate how serious the issue is to them by the number of earned tokens they are willing to attach to their complaint. If a complaint is upheld, the original challenger gets their coins back and earns a bonus for rooting out a negative element. Should the complaint be dismissed they lose the tokens they put up.
Civil is following a platform model similar to the route taken by Netflix, Mr. Coolidge said. Journalists well-known from their past work at publications like the Los Angeles Times, Gawker and The Guardian will produce original content that will be shared with their large follower groups.
Several newsrooms have joined Civil. Cannabis Wire will focus on the multi-billion dollar cannabis industry. Founded by Alyson Martin, whose byline has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, BuzzFeed News, and The Nation, and Nushin Rashidian, the research lead of the Platforms and Publishers project at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Cannabis Wire enters the space at a critical time in the cannabis industry.
“Cannabis is rich territory for serious journalism,” a statement on Cannabis Wire’s Civil page reads. “Legalization raises urgent questions about regulation and law, technology and taxation, science and business, criminal justice and individual liberties. It stands at the intersection of a booming billion-dollar industry and promising advances in medicine, all while remaining federally illegal.
“Legalization is rapidly spreading across the country and the globe. Cannabis Wire will focus not on the arguments about whether cannabis should be legalized, but instead cover the robust debates over how.”
Sludge wil covers the influence of special interest groups over America’s political system. Its founders include International Business Times alums Jay Cassano and Alex Kotch, former Politico New York reporter Josefa Velasquez, former OpenCongress reporter Donald Shaw, and former Participatory Politics Foundation executive director David Moore.
Documented will follow the daily lives of immigrant New Yorkers and chronicle how they are impacted by political decisions. By building links with frequently marginalized communities, Documented will tell the stories of a population facing an uncertain future in today’s America. Its co-founding editors are former Guardian US, The Daily and Politico New York reporter Mazin Sidahmed and Max Siegelbaum, whose byline has appeared in Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, VICE and Bloomberg Law.
There is a growing concern that blockchain-related initiatives will struggle to realize their full potential as new users will get confused over having to use tokens, thinking they are participating in cryptocurrency. Civil’s model is user-friendly, Mr. Coolidge stressed.
“What is most important for us and what we always stress is quality journalism,” Mr. Coolidge said. “An existing knowledge and passion for blockchain or cryptocurrency is not a prerequisite for using Civil.
“What unifies the team is their passion for journalism and the opportunity to be one of the first mainstream consumer applications for blockchain.”