Blockchain and media independence – not so simple

by Matt Popovich, for Unsplash
image by Matt Popovich, for Unsplash

I just got back from a talk given at the MediaLab Prado in Madrid on the role of blockchain in the media. An impressive panel did a good job in conveying the potential impact on journalistic independence, through immutability, anonymity and funding.

The latter is the part that I find most interesting: media finance.

Ad-funded models don’t seem to be working (with exceptions). Subscriptions are tough (though some manage to pull it off). Crowdfunding platforms are having a hard time going mainstream, and micropayments are technologically complicated. Fiat currency micropayment platform Blendle seems to be growing, but is not releasing revenue nor profit figures.

Unless… unless… micropayments can be managed via the blockchain? The problem is the clunkiness of the user interface. No way am I going to go through a payment process for a few cents every time I want to read an article.

“Seamless” micropayment integrations, such as Brave could be a potential solution, if it manages to get enough media to participate*. It seems like the most complicated part is loading up my Brave wallet and indicating preferences (I haven’t done it yet… I will, I will…). Satoshipay, a bitcoin-based micropayments platform, could be an alternative, although it appears to require a bit more input from my part. CoinDesk published yesterday an intriguing account of cryptotokens used to fund content, reward engagement and grant access.

While I believe that these avenues need to be explored more, I worry about our resistance to change. We realize that the model doesn’t really work now, but I don’t want to have to alter my reading habits. I also don’t want to see ads. I pay for subscriptions to a ton of sites, I even donate to some, but I accept that I am in the minority. And even I don’t want to switch to micropayments, because it’s an added layer of hassle in an already pretty tight schedule (I know, I hear you, “prioritize!”).

I don’t think that the audience is ready for a fundamental shift. Which means that we will watch while media gets squeezed and independence becomes more expensive. And we need independent journalism for independent thought.

Unless we can start to change how we perceive journalism, at “entry level”. I’m talking about educating the young on the importance of paying for what we consume, of calling out things we think are wrong, of valuing differing but well-expressed opinions, and of the economics of publishing.

How else can we engineer a societal shift in how we perceive content economics? How else can we wean a culture off of free content? How else can we inculcate the idea that information is a product, and the good stuff is worth paying for?

Too general and utopian, I know. But we need to start somewhere.

One of the more interesting questions tonight was about the potential conflict between immutability (cited as a support for independent journalism – no-one can censor or edit your writing) and truth (if what you’re writing is false, should it be immutable?). There isn’t yet a clear answer to this, but one of the panelists suggested ratings, much like Uber drivers. But good ratings can be given because the reader likes the writer’s work, even if it is misleading. Who rates the raters?

*CoinDesk, for whom I work, is part of the Brave platform


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