Wednesday 12 December 2018

Blockchain-powered journalism needs more than Civil discourse

Matthew Iles, CEO of The Civil Media Company
Matthew Iles, CEO of The Civil Media Company
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Another week, another journalism and Blockchain moonshot.

On Tuesday, the business title Forbes announced that it would be publishing its content to the Civil platform. This means that Forbes will begin to publish metadata from some articles to the blockchain via Civil. Once there, it will form a permanent archive of the published content, which can't be altered by any third party. If everything goes smoothly, Forbes may start to publish metadata from all of its articles to Civil's decentralised network.

So why would an established brand like Forbes be messing around with a platform of questionable value, beloved by criminals, idealists and speculators?

There are a few reasons. Here's what Forbes itself had to say. "We are relentlessly focused on rapid experimentation and implementation so that we can determine what's in the best interest of our audience and what is next for our industry," trumpeted Salah Zalatimo, Senior vice-president of Product & Technology at Forbes.

So it's a genuine experiment - fair enough. There are enough gurus out there telling us that publishing content on the blockchain may be the future basis of trust with audiences to make it worth a punt. Getting in on the ground floor may help Forbes gain first mover advantage in relation to new forms of audience monetisation and engagement. Publishing metadata on Civil could be the start of the licensing and syndication technologies of the future. It could also be the jumping off point for the use of smart contracts, which would allow contributors to publish content on Forbes sites. But, hey, it's also good PR. God knows, publishers need all the assistance they can get in pitching themselves as online innovators and champions of truth in an era of fake news and online echo chambers.

In fairness to Forbes, it has been producing comprehensive Blockchain coverage for some time and is willing to put its metadata where its mouth is. But it's not the first media company to hook up with Civil. The Associated Press has announced a partnership with Civil which will see blockchain technology used to understand where AP content appears and whether it is correctly licensed. Local news sites like the Colorado Sun and Block Club Chicago are using Civil. And Civil has also created a fund of $1m which will help with the creation of 100 new media projects in Asia over the next three years.

But established media brands have been less willing to enter into partnerships with Civil. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Civil had approached the Washington Post, the New York Times, Dow Jones & Co and Axios with a range of suggested partnerships. Civil suggested that readers could pay for journalism with Civil tokens. But forgoing direct subscription revenue for one-time token payments doesn't make sense.

And it's not just big publishers that are wary. Consumers are too - or at least the type who are likely to buy cryptocurrency.

Civil previously raised $5m from the blockchain venture studio ConsenSys. But last month the company launched an initial coin offering - an IPO for cryptocurrencies - which aimed to flog $24m worth of a new cryptocurrency. But there was a problem. No one's buying. Actually that's not true; one single investor has bought $1.26m worth of the tokens. Guess who? That's right, ConsenSys.

This undermines the notion that Civil will oversee a community approach to safeguarding ethical journalism. The wisdom of the crowd has better things to be doing, apparently. Civil now has until tomorrow to reach a soft market cap of $8m. It's a tough ask: at the time of writing they were stuck on $1.3m.

Civil has been very open about how challenging the process has been. "We've often said that this is a grand experiment, and when you're trying to do so many firsts, you're bound to make mistakes or learn what works and what doesn't along the way," wrote Matthew Iles, CEO of The Civil Media Company. There are a lot of smart, well-intended people working on Civil. But it's unclear how Civil - or any cryptocurrency - can add value right now. Why would a publisher want to go through a complex intermediary to get a community to support journalism? Why would readers not want to pay publishers directly for journalism?

Civil - and other cryptocurrency/journalism initiatives - may well be part of the future of media. But other than low-risk trials like Forbes', it seems people and publishers aren't ready for the future just yet.

Sunday Indo Business

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