Civil: restoring journalism on the blockchain


Journalism is the systematic act of reporting news to inform public discourse and decision-making. It is about fact-finding, uncovering multiple sides to a story and delivering accurate reports through various media which are as mirrors to the world.

If freed from prejudice and ulterior motives such as fame and wealth, and if guided by justice and equity, journalism promotes accountability, renders the voiceless heard and exposes corruption. It enables public opinion to form organically and this in turn steers social progress.

Conceived as such, journalism is one of the great hallmarks of a free and open society that masters its own future.

State of the industry

Despite its noble ideals, journalism is facing a serious threat.

Traditional publications have struggled to follow readers, advertisers and publishers in their mass migration to digital channels. For the media industry at large, however, digitalisation has been of great benefit with search engines and social media having risen as the ultimate intermediaries cashing in on ad-revenues.

Put in perspective, Facebook and Google have by now taken between 60 to 70% of the total ad market share in the US. From a journalistic point of view this is a troubling development, especially now that the five most popular sources of news are Google, Facebook, YouTube (Google-owned), Twitter (a partner of Google) and Instagram (Facebook-owned).

Equally troubling is that, in a bid for value, traditional media outlets have been moving more and more towards centralisation. In the US this has meant that from 50 corporations in 1983, now only 6 corporations control 90% of American media.

Across the board, we can see that journalism is falling prey to its own ad-driven revenue model. Increasingly, editorial decision-making is about seeking attention to drive income from web-traffic. It has spurred on sensationalism and thematic polarisation at the expense of objectivity. Coupled with the proliferation of fake news, it is no surprise that public trust in the media is at an all-time low.

Countering dependency on ads, some major publications are returning to a subscription-based model with readers paying for access to content. The New York Times, for instance, has amassed over 2 million paying readers, generating over $340 million.

But while this may work for well-established publications, it is a less viable model for young publications in terms of building readership.

Liberating journalism

In an effort to liberate journalism from centralisation and its choke-hold business model, The Civil Media Company aims to re-write the technology-stack of the entire journalism industry from the bottom-up in a permanent and publicly owned manner.

Leveraging blockchain technology and crypto-economics, and effectively leaving third-parties out of the equation, the company has been building a decentralised marketplace for independent newsrooms. It’s called Civil.

Civil’s architecture differs markedly from centralised platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. However, being a platform, it does draw on many of the same strategic advantages that platform dynamics offer in order to source, match-make and distribute content value among participants.

To ensure that Civil’s platform produces diverse and high-quality content from its inception, $1 million USD has been allocated to hire 100 full-time veteran journalists spread across 13 different newsrooms. These journalists come from well-respected publications such as The New Yorker, BBC, the Guardian, Foreign Policy, DNAinfo and more.

At first, newsrooms established on Civil will engage in local, international, policy and investigate journalism. However, once the platform is officially live, anyone can apply to start a newsroom and over time the scope of coverage may widen.

Civil is about building a global community of newsrooms, journalists and citizens, who together take charge of restoring the noble qualities of journalism as a vital organ of self-governing societies.

Civil’s Constitution

One of the remarkable things about Civil, lies in its founders’ commitment to a set of core principles. Much of this is apparent from Civil’s Constitution which all participants on the platform agree to abide by upon entry.

The Constitution seeks to move the maximum amount of governing power over the platform away from its founders to its community, while safeguarding Civil’s principal mission.

It does so through a set of provisions which enable the community to formally adopt the document and amend it over time to enhance the promotion of Civil’s core values and purpose.

Newsrooms and journalists, regardless of personal and cultural identities, need to produce original content, write transparently, fairly and accurately, maintain independence from financial interests, be responsive to critique, minimise harm to sources, communities and audiences, strive for permanence in record-keeping and guard against governmental, commercial or other influences that may conspire to corrupt information.

In order to promote the cause of press freedom and journalism as a public service, the company has established Civil Foundation, a non-profit, which in turn houses the Civil Council.

Made up of veteran journalists, scholars and free speech attorneys, the Civil Council can act in case of disputes and overturn community decisions. However, in the spirit of decentralisation the community is able to veto through a subsequent supermajority vote of 66.67% or more.

Civil’s protocol

Civil’s protocol for journalism is built around the idea of progressive decentralisation. Although developed by The Civil Media Company, as we can see from the Constitution, decision-making authority will be turned over to the larger community. This is achieved through the launch of CVL, Civil’s cryptocurrency.

Having launched its token only recently on the 18th of September, true to its intent to restore journalism, interested buyers are first required to register, answer a questionnaire, be approved and then demonstrate ‘proof of use’.

This rigorous process is meant to filter out speculators and attract only those who wish to actively participate in a global network of civically engaged individuals and advocate for journalistic integrity as it is outlined in the Constitution.

To be clear, the CVL token is not needed to read and support publications on Civil - for consumption citizens will mostly use fiat currency or ETH. Instead, the token is specifically used to launch a community-approved newsroom, challenge a newsroom in case it is being suspected of violating Civil’s constitution, vote for or against a challenge, appeal to the Civil Council, or to support journalists through peer-to-peer transactions. Considering Civil’s decentralised architecture, its constitutional design and the manner in which crypto-economics are applied, we gather that:

The Civil Media Company’s root purpose is to liberate and restore journalism to its rightful place in society.

Achieving coherence

When it comes to our wider discussions about branding, there is an important insight to be distilled from Civil’s approach.

As we pointed out before, when adopting a new technology it is crucial that companies apply a two-pronged branding strategy consisting of surface affiliation and core dissociation. Essentially this means that while a company may utilise a new technology to drive value, at the deeper level of branding its identity should be sufficiently independent of that technology in order to maximise adaptability and survivability across hype cycles.

What we can learn from Civil is that in addition to dissociating their root purpose from technological specifics, companies must also make sure that their business model is sufficiently coherent with their root purpose.

In the case of journalism, we can see that its purpose has been undermined by its own ad-based revenue model. Through adopting the blockchain and crypto-economics and securing its decentralised nature with its Constitution, Civil is effectively ridding the journalism industry of its inner contradictions and taking the first steps towards its restoration.

Although technology does play a key role in enabling this enterprise, it is rightfully not presented as the solution in and of itself. Rather, trust and faith are placed in an emergent community and the ability of its members to guide journalism into the future.

Civil places the power of knowledge back into the hands of the public. There is no doubt that the intentions and underlying theory are sound. Only time will tell if the public will exhibit the collective resilience and commitment needed to prevent societal prejudice and antagonism from creeping into its Constitution and undermine the freedoms for which it now so powerfully stands.