Unless you’ve been asleep for the past year, you’ve probably noticed that blockchain has taken the world by storm–the crypto industry is growing at an unprecedented pace, and fortunes are made and lost nearly every day.
Of course, the crypto revolution has not come without its own series of challenges–governments are scrambling to figure out appropriate regulations for crypto; traders are navigating a landscape in which they risk being scammed or hacked.
One part of the cryptosphere that’s often overlooked, oddly enough, is the crypto news industry. Reporters are jumping head-first into a totally new space where their words can have drastic effects on everything from regulation to coin valuation.
Established in 2013, NewsBTC is one of the oldest crypto news coverage firms in the business. Recently, Finance Magnates spoke to Samuel Rae, the new CEO of NewsBTC, about how to navigate the ever-changing, rapidly-growing cryptocurrency industry–and how to report on it with integrity.
How the Conversation Around Cryptocurrencies Has Changed in the Last Five Years
“Well,” Samuel said. “There’s a lot more people talking about them.”
“It’s gone from an underground payment method for drug dealers on Silk Road, to literally hundreds of billions of dollars worth of industry now. The people that are talking about it are very different in terms of where they sit in society, industry, and commerce.”
Samuel continued to say that when he began his work in the cryptosphere, “it was tiny. You could count the number of well-known people on one hand…Roger Ver, Charlie Shrem, these sorts of people.”
He said that his status as one of the earliest news sources in the industry has given the firm a unique perspective: “The fact that we’ve been able to follow the growth of these people, it puts in a position whereby we know who is the kind of person that’s going to be leading a top ICO company, who’s the kind of person that’s not going to be misleading investors that are looking to get into the space.”
Checking Problematic Trends in the Crypto News Industry
Sam explained that in such a new industry, ‘best practices’ are still being established across the board. Therefore, the crypto news media is often subject to a little more outside influence than what’s comfortable to say: “There’s so much outside influence when it comes to reporting and journalism, even some of the big media outlets–we’re talking CNBC, Bloomberg. You’re never quite sure where a story comes from and where it fits into the whole picture. Is it biased?”
“I don’t like to use the word ‘biased’,” he continued, “but there’s always potential when you’ve got outside investors, when you’ve got people paying for articles, when you’ve got all that involvement and pressure. Whereas [NewsBTC doesn’t] have that. Our journalism team is completely separate from our sales team and executive team.”
In fact, Samuel said that “[NewsBTC] has remained completely self-owned and independent. We don’t have any outside investors.”
“Obviously, we have relationships with companies and our advertising partners in the space, but that has no influence–and it doesn’t bleed into what we output in terms of journalism. You don’t see that in other companies, or not to the degree that we manage to keep it separate, anyway.”
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In addition to the effects of outside influence, Sam identified another troubling trend in the way that crypto news is reported: “One of the biggest problems that we’ve seen recently was what we call the ‘Bitcoin Cash Debacle’, whereby we had Roger Ver going on CNBC suggesting that Bitcoin wasn’t Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash was Bitcoin.”
He explained, “this coincided with a huge increase in mainstream coverage of the space, and so while you were getting millions of new people interested in Bitcoin (which from our perspective is a good thing) their first exposure to Bitcoin as a concept or a technology was the so-called ‘Bitcoin Jesus’ suggesting that the real Bitcoin was Bitcoin Cash.” Ver’s suggestions caused a (temporary) spike in the price of BCH.
Samuel continued to say that “a coin that gets more coverage or an increased amount of coverage is going to rise in value accordingly because of that coverage.”
In fact, he doesn’t “attribute any real rising value for many of the alternative cryptocoins to anything fundamental, because more often than not it is just because somebody’s writing about them, or because someone with a large following has discussed them somewhere.”
Samuel believes that regulation may quell this trend, and said that he thinks that “with many of the alternative cryptocoins, that landscape now is comparable to penny stocks.”
He continued: “You get people publishing totally outlandish claims, [and] there are no disclaimers required–whereas obviously in penny stocks–or in any stock market equity environment–you need to disclaim…That is not required now.”
Within his own organization, reporters are required to disclose their holdings: “We require all of our journalists, many of whom hold certain cryptocurrencies and cryptocoins, to disclose these holdings to us. We then disclose them in relevant articles if they’re writing about them.”
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Samuel explained that he believes this practice is “in line with what we think they would expect of us.”
Although NewsBTC “can’t be perfect,” Samuel argued that “we try to maintain a more prominent stance on [disclosure] than many others do.”
He continued to say that “in the same vein, all our sponsored articles all have a disclaimer on them saying that this article has been sponsored… All of our press releases are labeled as press releases, so there’s a clear difference between what’s promotional and what’s pure journalism on our site.”
“I think as long as we maintain that gap, as long as we can keep that separation, then we’re doing everything we can. Obviously, it’s more important that the people reading the information are able to understand that difference, and act on it accordingly,” he concluded.
New Recruits: Training a Journalistic Workforce With Little Experience
We asked Samuel to respond to Charles Hoskinson’s recent claim that ”the crypto media is not objective and fair. It’s quite biased. People pay for articles and a lot of these editors are 24-year-old kids who have never run a publication before. They have no journalistic training, they have no editorial discretion, and they’re not even willing to have a conversation.”
“He’s not wrong,” said Sam. “I think this applies to a good 70-80% of the industry, especially the news, the publication industry in this sector right now…the author teams are comprised of young people who have little to no journalistic experience.”
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— NEWSBTC (@newsbtc) January 5, 2018
This can contribute to some of the problematic trends that Samuel identified earlier: “Because of this, they are susceptible to the influence of the editors, who are in turn susceptible to the influence of the people who own the companies that they’re working for, who are in turn susceptible to influence of the people who are paying for advertisements on the website.”
However, Samuel argued that “the reality is that it’s these 20 to 24-year-old kids that are those people that are knowledgeable about this technology.”
He continued: “The next generation above them doesn’t have the exposure, doesn’t have the understanding of what they’re writing about. While we might have to compete with others for journalists, authors, and writers, there isn’t a preference as to how old these guys have to be.”
— Samuel Rae (@samueljrae) February 18, 2015
“That gives us an opportunity to say, ‘look, tell us exactly what you know about the space, prove to us that you can take what’s happening in this sector and deliver it to a user or a reader in a way that they’ll understand and enjoy, and we’ll hire you.’”
The Future of the Cryptosphere
As someone who has been active in the blockchain space for longer than most people, Samuel has a bit of a bird’s-eye-view that is somewhat rare in an industry that has only grown significantly within the last year. When asked about where he believes that the crypto industry is headed, Samuel said that “to be honest, I feel that the cryptocurrency element of the wider distributed ledger technology…isn’t going to grow nearly as fast as the wider blockchain industry.”
“The ICO model essentially revolutionized the way startups make money. Obviously its come with problems, so once some regulation is in place it’ll be much improved,” he said.
He added that the blockchain revolution is really only beginning: “I feel that if you name an existing technology framework, there is a way that replacing that existing legacy framework with blockchain technology, would improve it to such a degree that it’s an inevitability.”
“It’s taken 34 years for the Internet to get to the point where it is today, whereby everything depends on it. Blockchain’s 30-year trend started in 2010, so we’re eight years into that 30-year trend,” he said.
“But within 30 years–and by the end of those 30 years–certainly blockchain technology will be as widespread, and as widely used, and ingrained into global commerce and industry as the internet is now.”