Civil journalism crypto dusts itself off after failed ICO renews focus

Posted: 20 December 2018 4:13 pm
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Does journalism really need to live on the blockchain forever?

Failed ICOs are a dime a dozen – or even less than that if you want to get literal since their tokens tend to become completely worthless.

The flop of the Civil ICO attracted a lot more media attention than equivalents though, perhaps first because it was a journalism-focused cryptocurrency, and second because it might have flopped precisely because it was too transparent and honest for its own good.

But now Civil is coming back to life with a new plan of going back to the basics and returning to its core focus of journalism.

The reason journalism needs a separate, community-oriented source of funding, the reasoning goes, is because it's impossible to remain impartial without it. Wikipedia's constant donation drives are an example of this. But they might also be an example of how it can actually work and of how many people are willing to support the resources they use.

And the use of a blockchain is also seen as an important way of ensuring the immutability of published pieces, preventing investigative journalism from being pried down.

In the case of Civil, the vision was a decentralised network of newsrooms that would be able to independently chase stories and bring important local news to their own communities, utilising some of the tools offered by the Civil media platform, and be able to raise support from their readers through the token.

But the blockchain and cryptocurrency parts got in the way, Civil founder Matthew Iles said in a new blog post. The technology will remain, but when it launches again in February, it will be a means to an end rather than the core focus, and Civil will be re-orienting itself back towards journalism.

"Technology is a critical means to an end, but we let it overwhelm our message, complicate our experience, and distract from our core objectives. We won’t make that mistake again," Iles wrote.

New plan

When Civil re-launches in February, it will come with several elements.

The first is the Civil Registry app. This is envisioned as the core of the network, letting any newsroom apply to be a Civil newsroom, which means agreeing to a living constitution of journalistic standards.

One of the most impactful elements might be the Civil Publisher though. This is a tool that lets Civil newsrooms index verifiable data about their articles on a blockchain or permanently archive their work on a blockchain. This kind of thing has already been done a few times, perhaps most notably by an investigative journalist in China who broke open a story on one of the country's leading manufacturers distributing fake and defective vaccinations. The story started circulating, but was quickly removed by the powers that be. And so they published the entire story on the Ethereum blockchain, where it still sits beyond the reach of censorship attempts.

The Civil Publisher tool aims to make it easier and more straightforward to do that.

Civil will also be picking up its token sale again by simply throwing open the doors on its token sale for an indefinite amount of time. Tokens will be purchasable from the Civil website until all 34 million are sold, unless something else happens first. Ownership will entitle holders to a voice in various governance and decision-making systems on the platform.

New problems

The new plan also comes with new problems though, not the least of which is the potential for people to simply not buy Civil tokens and to not care about it.

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The idea of a living constitution of journalistic ethics to bind a decentralised newsroom network might also be a bit naive in the absence of any way to reliably enforce the constitution. The cryptocurrency world is already littered with the shells of projects whose success was dependent on people doing the right thing.

There are also downsides associated with censorship-immune publishing. Permanently and immutably posting lies and slander on the blockchain could cause some problems, as could misguidedly publishing sensitive personal information on people without their consent, or publishing stories based on tips from anonymous and potentially lying insiders. Immutability isn't always a good thing.

Does the publishing of, for example, a Hulk Hogan sex tape or an article that forces someone out of the closest against their wishes really warrant a place on the Ethereum blockchain? Even if Civil actually takes off, is the world really any better off with people sacrificing their privacy on the altar of tabloid muckraking journalism?

Also, anyone can publish something on the Ethereum blockchain even without Civil. If this takes off, how much blockchain journalism will simply end up being a PR piece or a hit piece thinly disguised as investigative journalism?

Of course there are plenty of upsides too, and some pieces from Civil newsrooms probably do belong in a permanent and immutable Internet library.

And the benefits of blockchain-ifying content don't stop with immutability, as David Moore from the Sludge Civil newsroom notes.

"Decentralized publishing "unlocks" a lot of interesting features for content licensing, remixing, curation, and discovery around the distributed web, and the Civil network will be developing and testing those with the wider Ethereum community. For an example of how distributed content can live around the web—instead of reading a "blockchain explainer" post only on a publishing platform like Medium, writers' content might be licensed to appear in widgets or pop-up helpers on outside sites, with compensation terms built in to the syndication smart contract and fulfilled automatically over Ethereum," he suggested.

However, most sites will probably still opt to plagiarise the content or mildly re-word it rather than pay any licensing fees.

And there's still the problem of the Civil Foundation as a centralised entity, and the potential of it becoming a lightning rod for expensive legal actions. Unless it's a DAO, it's perhaps not as decentralised as it needs to be.

Disclaimer: This information should not be interpreted as an endorsement of cryptocurrency or any specific provider, service or offering. It is not a recommendation to trade. Cryptocurrencies are speculative, complex and involve significant risks – they are highly volatile and sensitive to secondary activity. Performance is unpredictable and past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Consider your own circumstances, and obtain your own advice, before relying on this information. You should also verify the nature of any product or service (including its legal status and relevant regulatory requirements) and consult the relevant Regulators' websites before making any decision. Finder, or the author, may have holdings in the cryptocurrencies discussed.

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