What’s happening:

The latest experiment in journalism is facing a big test this month. Anything involving blockchain is super volatile and always has been, according to Maria Bustillos, the editor of the website Popula.

Civil Media is a blockchain-based economy that involves the direct, peer-to-peer exchange of value between journalists who report articles, make videos, record podcasts, and the people who read, watch, listen and support their work. It has partnered with more than a dozen news outlets including Popula.

Civil has sold about $1.4 million worth of its new cryptocurrency tokens since the sale started in mid-September — well short of its $8 million initial project goal.


Why it matters:

Bustillos, who has been covering blockchain technology and cryptocurrency for several years, said the market is still a “wild west” for those who participate in it.

Civil has about a week left to sell its new cryptocurrency to the public. With an ultimate goal to raise $24 million worth of tokens, the success or failure of this venture will have a lasting impact on digital publishers. The tokens are intended to create the foundation of an economy that is key to the model that Civil envisions for journalism — and its success could present a promising alternative to the advertising revenue that the industry is reliant upon, but which has been sucked up by Google and Facebook.

Failure, however, could send everyone back to square one — which is why media observers have been closely monitoring this process for months.


Digging Deeper:

Civil views itself as a home for good journalism. On Tuesday, Civil announced that Forbes will publish some of its content on Civil; and Forbes will consider publishing everything on the network within the next year.

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So far Civil given out at least $1 million in grant money to about a dozen news organizations doing local and international reporting, investigative journalism and policy coverage. But Civil wants to do more than provide seed money to journalists; it also wants to give their readers a bigger stake in quality, ethical journalism.

For that to happen, Civil needs to create an economy for its tokens, which it hopes to do with this sale. Some people have found the process of buying Civil tokens laborious, with myriad steps involved, however, and a major challenge is the fact that many buyers will be intimidated by that or not willing to jump through the hoops required.

Civil has responded to this problem by making improvements that allow customers to pay for the tokens with cash. It is also promoting the sale as a way of reaching a broader audience.


The Fine Print:

  • If Civil doesn’t reach its soft cap goal of $8 million in this sale, the money will be returned to those who already purchased tokens.
  • A council of journalism experts will act as a final arbiter for any challenge brought by a token owner who believes a piece of journalism is unethical or inappropriate — a way of preventing “mob rule.”
  • Only a third of the available tokens are part of the public sale; the rest are being held by Civil and its media partners. This will avoid the risk of a single person potentially buying up too much of the token economy, and wielding outsized control over the platform.
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