A Former Politico Editor Is Using Ethereum to Help Fix Journalism

A new project staffed with media heavyweights envisions how news outlets could be disrupted and decentralized by blockchain tech.

AccessTimeIconJul 6, 2017 at 12:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. UTC

When Tom McGeveran left Politico earlier this year, he had no idea he would end up helping a blockchain startup in its attempt to change the way reporters and their audiences interact.

Now that he's the co-founder of New York-based Civil, which is working to encode elements of the modern newsroom into smart contracts on the ethereum blockchain, McGeveran finds himself helping disrupt the industry he just left.

By writing the functions of various departments, including circulation, subscriptions, ad sales and marketing, into the self-executing code, Civil aims to cut out a middleman of a different sort: media bureaucracy.

If successful, the effort (which is planning an ICO this year), would break down every aspect of a newsroom into its most basic components and let individuals fulfill those functions with only limited managerial oversight.

McGeveran told CoinDesk:

"We see in crypto economics the possibility of decentralizing this package, stripping it down to the relationship between readers and journalists/producers, reducing the cost base for these basic services and freeing it from incentives that match the interests of third parties but not citizens or readers or journalists."

The vision

A white paper published last week divides journalism into three marketplaces that interact as a "mesh" of services that can be broken down into a series of core components.

Newsrooms enable coverage by identifying "niche and local" topics that audiences members, or "citizens", can either express interest in or not. "Stations" are monetization platforms that allow journalists to price their work "however they want." While "fact-checking-as-a-service" uses tokens to incentivize audience members to identify libel, plagiarism, errors and more.

To power the interlocking system of smart contracts, Civil intends to launch its own token that services several functions, including allowing access to content, voting on newsroom decisions and penalizing inaccuracy.

If successful, Civil founder Matthew Iles believes this token-driven workflow could dramatically cut down on the costs of setting up a news publication, resulting in more profitable articles being written for communities currently overlooked by mainstream media.

"There's costs involved in the centralized business model that we don't think go towards the creation of valuable journalism," Iles told CoinDesk. "And we think there an opportunity to create efficiencies in that business model that would enable journalism to exist where it currently can't."

Industry support

To build this new kind of decentralized infrastructure, the startup is harnessing the experience of a number of industry heavyweights as advisers, including the former managing editor of the New York Post, Lauren Ramsby, and the editor-in-chief of local news site DNAinfo, John Ness.

Former NewYorker.com reporter Blake Eskin and CoinFund founder Jake Brukhman will also advise.

Prior to joining Civil, McGeveran and another advisor, Josh Benson, founded Capital New York, a firm acquired by Politico in 2013.

McGeveran and Benson left Politico in January to join their former colleague, Katherine Lehr to build an "outlet" for media projects that reimagine the industry.

McGeveran told CoinDesk:

"That firm hasn't really had its coming out yet, but Civil is a big part of our work."

Newspapers image via Shutterstock


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