Blockchain may be great news for the news business

By: Lynne D. Johnson

These startups are using new technology to help traditional media

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Journalism has been struggling to find its way in the digital news era. Over the past 25 years, weekday print circulations have been nearly cut in half, and advertising revenue has decreased even more, according to recent research from the Pew Research Center. In an age when readers want fast and free content, print and online publishers are scrambling for new ways to find money.

Blockchain, which is being used for everything from energy trading to fraud protection, may also hold interesting potential in the news industry, according to experts in tech and media.

Why blockchain?

This decentralized ledger system can track, tag and reward actions using a verifiable, inexpensive process that provides trusted checks-and-balances. The same platform structure can potentially help distribute content, pay journalists and do other things.

Several experiments have already cropped up with the potential to shape the future of journalism. Civil has received a lot of press for building a platform that plans to fund newsrooms with cryptocurrencies. The startup has signed impressive partners, including the Associated Press and Forbes.

Using a decentralized, blockchain-based protocol, Civil hopes to make it easier for publishers to license and monetize their content as well as track down when articles are used without permission. The goal is to fight fake news and create an ad-free economy where journalists distribute content directly to readers. In this ecosystem, the community plays a vital role, having the ability to stop a content provider from being on the platform if it violates journalism ethics.

Blockchain may hold interesting potential in the news industry. Its decentralized ledger system can potentially help distribute content, pay journalists and do other things.

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Civil isn’t the only player in the space. Another widely known blockchain-powered company that plans to save journalism is Brave Browser, best known for creating an alternative to Google Chrome that decreases ads on the page and increases privacy.

“Brave provides a high-integrity platform that directly connects publishers and users so that publishers get better revenue and users' privacy is respected. Brave cuts out middlemen ad exchanges, reduces ad fraud, and even shares revenue with users to reward them for their attention,” said Luke Mulks, Director of Business Development for Brave Software.

Brave has partnered with Dow Jones Media Group to offer premium content to readers, and also test blockchain-supported payment technology. Based on the sale of Brave’s Basic Attention Token (BAT), which generated $35M in 30 seconds, the company grew its platform and user-base. Brave readers can access two years of MarketWatch newsletter and Barron’s for free. Brave also has other programs in the works, including an ad revenue split that rewards publishers 70% and users 15% for their attention (tracked by the user’s browser).

Other players in the space include Nwzer, an artificial intelligence and blockchain-powered platform of citizen journalism and Po.et, a marketplace for creators to be discovered that primarily focuses on validating ownership of content and licensing. On Po.et, the community can challenge content they feel isn’t authentic. If the concern of the crowd prevails, the content will be gone, poof.

“Po.et and Civil are envisioning radically new media ecosystems that are outside traditional media gardens,” says Daniel Dewar, founder of Paperchain, an online marketplace for media financing.

Paperchain is attempting to fix the current system by enabling a lower cost of capital for publishers to invest in content generation and business operations.

“We do this by securitizing earned revenue cash flows and opening up these cash flows for financing from a peer-to-peer investment market using decentralized protocols,” adds Dewar. This model will create a greater level of control for publishers based on future revenue, and maintain a better relationship with writers who can get paid on time.

Block the clickbait. Let the publishers publish. Let creators create. Restore integrity in journalism by treating users like people whose attention has value.

– Luke Mulks, Director of Business Development for Brave Software

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These disruptive blockchain experiments in journalism face their own set of challenges. For example, many people still have negative views of cryptocurrencies. Then there’s the hurdle of explaining what blockchain can do for the consumer and any newsmaking business. Some critics argue that blockchain design has deterred people from participating in projects because distributed systems can be unreliable.

Whatever happens with these companies, the train is moving forward on blockchain journalism and all of these projects want to give more power to the people and publishers to put faith back in media.

Mulks views his platform and others as a way to push back against the things that have comprised the news business in recent years.

“Block the clickbait,” says Mulks. “Let the publishers publish. Let creators create. Restore integrity in journalism by treating users like people whose attention has value.”

For additional resources, please visit the following:

Pew Research Center Newspaper Fact Sheet

Civil

Paperchain

Brave Browser

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About the author(s): 

Lynne D. Johnson is a writer, strategist, and startup co-founder and advisor. She writes about diversity and inclusion, tech and media. She has worked in strategy and content roles at Waggener Edstrom, R/GA, Fast Company, Vibe and Spin.

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