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With 100 newsrooms on board, Civil launches blockchain-based publishing platform

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Civil—a community-owned journalism network based on transparency and trust—aims to make journalism sustainable through an alternative business model based on blockchain and cryptocurrency. Yesterday the company launched its cryptocurrency token CVL, opening up its platform for publishers, journalists, and readers across the world.

Civil is a network that’s come together for ethical, independent journalism. Newsrooms have editorial independence and freedom, but being part of the Civil network makes us part of a community that’s testing new models for sustainability.

David Moore, Co-founder, Sludge

A new journalism economy

Civil is using blockchain technology to build a network of independent news organizations. It has also created its own cryptocurrency, the CVL token that would help in a host of things, from governing the network to getting journalists paid for their work.

Essentially, Civil is a publishing tool or platform like Medium combined with a crowdfunding system like Kickstarter or Patreon tailored to support independent journalism.

How it works: What does it mean to say that Civil is owned and run by its community of journalists and their supporters?

How it Works Graphic
Courtesy: Civil

We’re facing twin crises in journalism around the world. On the one hand, there is a growing trust gap. People are farther and farther apart in terms of what sources of information they believe. On the other hand, there’s also a financial sustainability gap. At Civil what we’re trying to do is get out solutions to both of those crises.

Vivian Schiller, CEO of the Civil Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Civil Media Company to PBS

Blockchain: Benefits for publishers

Simply explained, blockchain is based on a distributed ledger that records every single change (somewhat like a document revision history). The records are not stored in one place but distributed across computers around the world. Once a piece of content has been published on blockchain it cannot be altered or deleted. It is also indelibly marked with information about its origin, modification and time of publication. Blockchain advocates claim that the records are permanent and nearly impossible to hack.

For publishers, such a system offers several benefits. It can create a high degree of transparency and accountability, helping them build credibility and foster audience trust. It can also help them fight plagiarism and protect their work from external interference including powerful corporate or government agencies. Since the records are immutably marked, they cannot be destroyed or modified without the consensus of the network.

Last year, Forbes signed up with with Civil to publish metadata from a selection of its articles on blockchain. The idea is to ensure the integrity of its archives. If the experiment is successful, the company plans to publish all its metadata on blockchain in the future. Sludge, an investigative reporting site which produces journalism on lobbying and money in politics has also teamed up with Civil to protect its IP.

To report on these topics we knew we needed editorial independence, and Civil provides that in several ways. With blockchain, we can report fearlessly on the powerful special interests in corporations, and archiving our work to Ethereum [a leading blockchain] prevents our database from being purchased by a bad actor or a billionaire. So we can offer readers the strongest possible tech assurance that our reporting is the same as when we published it.

David Moore, Co-founder, Sludge

CVL, the backbone of Civil

The system’s backbone is the blockchain-based cryptocurrency token, CVL. Token holders can start newsrooms in the system, challenge the membership of other news organizations in the system, and/or cast votes when such challenges arise. They can also support journalists and publishers directly by paying them with CVL. Civil newsrooms are also free to pursue conventional revenue streams.

With the relaunch yesterday, users will be able to purchase Civil tokens and memberships. According to Civil CEO Matthew Iles, “Thirty-four million Civil tokens will be priced by The Civil Media Company at $0.20 per CVL on March 6. Every token sold will trigger a slight price increase until the last token goes for $0.94 via a transparent, fixed and linear slope.”

Proceeds from the sale would be donated to the Civil Foundation which is led by former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller. The foundation’s mission is to provide tools and services to newsrooms, as well as allocate grants to fund journalism innovation, advocacy for standards of journalism ethics, community-building among publishers and the public and educational programming for newsrooms.

Civil Media, on the other hand, plans to generate revenues by building apps that help its members use the Civil platform better. Specific details have not been shared yet, “Tipping and revenue generating tools are on the roadmap coming soon after this launch,” said Iles to Coindesk.

News organizations can also join Civil by purchasing memberships of at least $1,000. Once on Civil, they will get access to a wide range of benefits. These include the ability to index and permanently archive their content to the blockchain and accept direct payments from members who wish to support them. According to the company, nearly 100 newsrooms, including Sludge, Colorado Sun and Popula have signed to join Civil by the end of March.

“Part of the solution”

Civil has built a complex product, but if it works out the way its founders think it might just bring in a new age for journalism. But that’s an idealistic thought.

Speaking to ZigZag, a podcast that covers journalism, Civil Foundation CEO Vivian Schiller, said, “Is Civil going to be the answer to all the problems of journalism? Of course not. It doesn’t have to be the answer to all the problems. It has to be a part of the answer, part of the solution.”