Micha Klootwijk/123RF
 

Blockchain for Journalism: 8 Possible Use Cases

  • 3 December 2018
  • Sam Mire

Walter Cronkite, America’s Anchorman, once said, “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.” Tom Brokaw has said about journalism, “It’s all storytelling, you know. That’s what journalism is all about.” Unfortunately, the days of measured, truth-based storytelling that made it the calling of idealists the world over seem a distant figment of the past. The profession faces attacks from all sides, including but not limited to allegations of muckraking, partisanship, oversaturation, and cronyism. In fact, 72% of Americans believe that traditional news outlets “report news they know to be fake, false, or purposely misleading.”

In many ways, journalists have their hands tied. If they want steady employment at a traditional outlet, they often must abide by the predetermined agendas of their employers. This is reflected in the decline of hard news, which has been largely replaced by media personalities posing as journalists, taking unabashed stances on issues instead of remaining unbiased. 42% of Americans polled said that they believe that “news” has become no more than commentary and opinion.

There are several blockchain initiatives that seek to place the power back in the hands of true journalists, removing the need for corporate interests that often lead to biased reporting and agenda pushing. By relying on new funding models, establishing new ways to involve reader input, and trying out new improvements to the journalism field enabled by blockchain technology, believers in the industry hope to breathe life back into a field that has taken much flack in recent years.

Blockchain for journalism - Practical use cases


Micropayments to Support Smaller Publications

Blockchain use cases in journalism - Micropayments to Support Smaller Publications

Journalism in the digital age is a ruthless, hardscrabble game of survival, and finding ways to stay afloat financially is key to establishing a following and finding long-term success. While a reported 93% of adults in the United States get some portion of their news from an online source, digital publications are a dime a dozen. Most publications use the same means to attempt to reach their user base and new readers, which can result in these systems ultimately being a wash.

83% of digital native news outlets offer newsletters, 86% have an official presence on Apple News, 71% release podcasts, and nearly all have a social media presence. The number of news websites is nearly at 2 billion and grows by the second, meaning that advertising dollars are spread across a massive network of digital news outlets competing for eyeballs. Considering that more than 90% of internet startups end in failure, it’s clear that the current revenue systems aren’t working for the vast majority of publications.

For any online publication, the idea of users paying on a per-article basis has appeal. These micropayments would reward authors for attracting loyal audiences and allow publications to break from advertising-dependent models that often come with conditions with respect to what content can and cannot be published. If audiences prove willing to embrace this system for publications that are worth their paying modest amounts for, smart contract technology serves as a system that could automatically, immediately process the payments.

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem

  • Civil – Decentralized journalism and media platform. 
  • Narrative Content publishing platform redefining how authors and publications are compensated. 

Cryptocurrencies to Fund Journalists/Projects

Blockchain use cases in journalism - Cryptocurrencies to Fund Journalists

Many journalistic publications are consistently treading water financially, forced to rely on advertising revenues, corporate backing, and/or paywall subscription models to stay afloat. Several high-profile shutdowns have taught us that weathering significant financial adversity in the news and journalism fields has become nearly impossible, even for established outlets. When Terry Bollea, also known as Hulk Hogan, settled a lawsuit against Gawker Media for $31 million in 2016, the judgement would ultimately lead to the demise of a publication that, while not known for journalistic integrity, maintained a loyal reader base. Gawker has regrouped and plans to launch once again in 2019, but its shutdown was proof of how fragile existence is for even some of the most well-known publications and news outlets.

Newspapers have served as a harbinger of things to come as the world has turned to digital outlets for their news. Paper advertising revenues fell from roughly $60 billion to about $20 billion between 2000 and 2015, and the advertising crunch eventually extended to online publications as the space became increasingly crowded. For many, the solution to this existential problem is clear: come up with new ways to fund real journalism so that they can be freed from the restrictions of corporate sponsors.

Believe it or not, there is still a large contingent of readers around the globe who believe that a free, independent press corps could once again be a reality. In order to help re-establish news men and women who want to break real stories, new blockchain-based funding models are turning to cryptocurrencies as a means for readers to help fund the journalists and outlets they believe are fighting the good fight. Whether it is a war correspondent on the ground in Syria who needs funding to keep churning out stories or an entire Spotlight-esque investigative journalism crew who requires non-advertising linked funding to operate with true autonomy, a reader-endorsement model of funding would represent a needed break from the binary, paywall vs. advertising choice that has hampered the industry’s credibility.


Blockchain-Enabled News Platforms

Blockchain use cases in journalism - Blockchain-Enabled News Platforms

The lines between advertisement and journalism have been increasingly blurred by the injection of corporate sponsorship money into the industry. The Huffington Post is partnered with the likes of Johnson & Johnson and Cisco Systems. Some have even suggested that the publication killed a piece critical of Uber because it has financial incentive to do so. The Atlantic had to issue an apology piece after it displayed an ad for the Church of Scientology. BuzzFeed has published pieces on behalf of corporate sponsors, like the quirky “10 Lifechanging Ways to Make Your Day More Efficient,” which lists GE as the brand publisher. Publications are increasingly turning to content sponsored by corporate partners, and often those pieces are virtually indistinguishable from real news. This presents obvious conflicts of interest that further degrade the credibility of an ailing media industry.

Blockchain-enabled news platforms are already in the works, and they have several aims. For one, they will provide the technological underpinning for the direct funding of journalism. Secondly, they will exist outside of traditional funding models, allowing greater freedom for journalists to pursue the stories that are worthy of being reported on. These platforms will also archive stories, as the blockchain technology that allows for their existence also has the inherent benefit of permanence. It is the hope that these platforms will usher in a revived era of hard-hitting journalism that has faded in recent decades. 

Companies Trying to Solve This Problem


Permanently Maintaining Story/Research Archives

Blockchain use cases in journalism - Maintaining Story - Research Archives

It is important for journalists to maintain their online archives, whether it is for the sake of obtaining more and greater employment opportunities or simply as a matter of pride. But when a publication closes its door or ceases operation of its website, the cost of maintaining servers is often too great to keep an archive of past work. When New York-based neighborhood news source DNAInfo and news, food, arts, and event-centric publication Gothamist were abruptly shut down in November 2017, there was speculation that their archives would be lost for good. That ultimately did not prove to be the case, but many publications haven’t been so fortunate as DNAInfo and Gothamist, who were able to recover a digital store of their past published works.

As newspapers lock their doors and shutter operations, long-tenured writers have come to realize that the legacy of their works have largely been relegated to the realm of the imagination. With the advent of the digital age of news and new technologies that promise to elevate the systems of storing and archiving past works, many new age journalists will be fortunate enough to avoid the fates of newspaper men and women, whose written words went largely unpreserved.

The blockchain is a permanent record stored across a distributed network. This means that journalists and other writers will have a permanent means of storage for their work, which provides a method for citing past articles and essays when establishing their credentials to prospective employers.


Tokenizing Reader Investment in Journalism

Blockchain use cases in journalism - Tokenizing Reader Investment

Media consolidation has forced startup journalists and publications to flock to jobs and mergers with the big wigs of the industry. When Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos acquired the Washington Post for $250 million in October 2013, it restored notoriety and stability to the storied newspaper, making it one of the exceptional success stories amidst a floundering written media landscape. More recently, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff paid $190 million in cash to purchase Time magazine, which has lost much of its luster since once being one of the premier publications on newsstands. In July 2017, Laurene Powell Jobs — widow of Steve — purchased a significant state in The Atlantic magazine, serving as a member of what is becoming a trend of millionaires and billionaires investing in written publications. Magazines, newspapers, and digital publications who consistently fight to stay out of the red are often more than willing to take nine-figure sums to stabilize cash flow or sell outright, but accepting cash always comes at the cost of operational autonomy.

The move toward a model by which readers help invest in and sustain operations of small, independent publications is being launched in order to maintain agenda-free reporting. This movement will be facilitated in part by the ability for publications to reward readers for their support, and for readers to show love to the publications they enjoy by investing in the proprietary coins that some of these publications are launching as a means of fulfilling the cost of operations.


Eliminating Advertisements

Blockchain use cases in journalism - Eliminating Advertisements

The heavy reliance on advertising has diluted the quantity and quality of worthwhile content in both digital and physical publications, and readers are unwilling to wade through a seemingly endless slew of ads to locate the content they value. According to a Reuters report, newspapers’ outsize dependence on advertising dollars in lieu of booming sales has contributed to the medium’s widespread demise. The American newspaper industry generates as much as 80% of its income from advertising sales, and putting so many eggs in one basket has proven catastrophic when advertisers are no longer lining up to pay for space in the local rag.

Newspapers aren’t the only news and journalistic medium that has an advertising dependence problem. 69% of all domestic news revenue, or roughly $43 billion of the $63 billion in revenue generated, is derived from advertising. Considering that more than 28% of U.S. internet users have installed some sort of ad blocker, and that advertising frameworks are largely dependent on the likes of Google and Facebook, alternative means for publications to remain commercially viable must be tested.

Much of the benefit of blockchain-enabled news and journalism outlets is a new paradigm that allows readers to directly contribute to the sustenance of their favorite publications through direct donations on secure blockchain platforms. This will help eliminate or at least decrease the dependence on advertisers, who often pay to have unsightly, distracting presences on websites and in physical issues of a magazine or paper. Considering that the current advertising revenue models aren’t working particularly well anyway, a new format that relies upon readers to fund publications they believe in will serve as a litmus test for establishing a press that is unharnessed to pursue stories that provide direct value for their readership.


Implementing Reader Input More Effectively

Blockchain use cases in journalism - Effective Reader Input

Under current models, those who read the news have little say as to what stories are covered, which aren’t, or how news outlets go about doing their business. This has led to a readership that feels talked down to instead of catered to, and the result is a jaded populace that is warier of the media than they have ever been. Apathy toward the media has created a malaise, and the effects are wide-ranging. Young people in the UK are voting less and less, and disinterest in traditional news outlets has almost certainly contributed to this phenomenon, at least in part.

But apathy is only the tip of the iceberg — outright distrust in the old news media is rampant. A Gallup poll found that 44% of respondents believe news reporting is inaccurate, and that 64% believe that most news they see on social media is inaccurate. While users continue to interact with the news, too many outlets continue to ignore or fail to account for the wants of their readership, to their own detriment.

There are numerous blockchain news platforms that, having issued their own coin, allow investors to vote on decisions pertaining to the direction of the newsroom, much like stockholders can. Because readers will play a central role in funding these new digital newsrooms, they should have a say in new proposals to ensure that they may see that their investment is being repaid. This is a winning formula for the journalists as well, as they can ensure that they are providing a service that is in tune with investors, and in doing so increase the odds that their venture remains funded. 


Compensating Commenters to Incentivize Interaction and Inspire Loyalty

Blockchain use cases in journalism - Compensating Commenters

In the era of neverending content streams and constant refreshes, finding a way to get readers to stay focused on an article for more than a few seconds can seem more difficult than solving a crossword puzzle blindfolded. The average internet page visit lasts less than one minute. And while website metric analysts tend to focus on clicks as valuable insight, there’s plenty of evidence that suggests they shouldn’t. After all, what good is a click if 55% of users only stay on a page for 15 seconds?

It’s not difficult to identify the sites and publications with the most loyal followings. Just scroll down to the comment section and see how many readers have left their thoughts and comments on a given article. For publications struggling to establish the readership they would like to have, considering how to get readers to not only comment, but engage with an entire article, is critical.

Rewarding commenters for contributing information to an article or issuing a correction could help compel readers to interact more deeply and longer with each written piece. By establishing a framework to provide coins or compensation through a blockchain platform, a loyal readership eager to parse articles for potential errors means exposing those readers to quality content, increasing the chances that they will return not only for potential compensation, but for the intellectual value that the content provides.

About Sam Mire

Data journalist and market research analyst focused on emerging technology, trends, and ideas.

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