Interview

The Evolution of Crypto Journalism: BlockTV Chief Editor Speaks

Ron Friedman, editor in chief at BlockTV, shares his thoughts on changes in crypto journalism and the BlockTV (BLTV) token.

The cryptocurrency industry as a whole has experienced some serious financial, technological, and ideological shifts over the past several years. What began as “magic internet money” being tossed around on online forums has grown into an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars–an industry that has experienced at least one highly publicized boom and bust cycle.

As a result, the conversation around crypto has changed–along with the crypto industry itself, an entire sector of journalism has formed specifically to cover developments within crypto–and just like the industry itself, the quality and standards of journalism in cryptocurrency have changed and matured over time.

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Indeed, just as crypto companies that were powered purely by hype have gradually been phased out, so too have some of the crypto news media sources that failed to provide a valuable resource that wasn’t completely based in hype, buzz, and dubious information.

Recently, Finance Magnates sat down with Ron Friedman, editor in chief at cryptocurrency news media platform BlockTV. We asked Ron about the phenomenon of journalistic maturation within crypto, as well as the evolution of BlockTV as a journalistic entity in the cryptocurrency space.

Ron also spoke about how the launch of BlockTV’s ‘BLTV’ token is attempting to create a new funding model for journalism and addressed some of the criticism that the project has received so far.

The birth of BlockTV

‘Among cryptocurrency industry news sources, BlockTV is unique in that it is one of the only platforms–if not the only platform–that is primarily based in video journalism.

Where did the concept come from? ’The idea for BlockTV came about right t the peak of late 2017–the ‘bubble’ or the ‘boom; fond memories of ‘crypto summer’, I guess,” Freidman explained. “But it took us about half a year to get the operation started before we started publishing news.”

Therefore, the launch of BlockTV took place in the midst of the bear market that plagued crypto throughout 2018. “We were reported on daily price decreases. It wasn’t the best time for the crypto industry,” he continued. “And it wasn’t meeting any of the expectations–we came in thinking it was one industry, and it was transforming before our eyes as we were getting started.”

“It was a bit of a shocker,” he said. “The whole culture changed around [crypto], and obviously the businesses that were doing extremely well and had a lot of advertising budget and a lot of public relations (PR) budget–businesses that were hiring and working on new projects, some of them more successful than others–that all changed.”

Suddenly, indeed, “businesses were closing down and disappearing; people were tightening up their staffs and budgets. It was–and still is–an interesting time, and if there’s one word to sum up the crypto business, it’s ‘volatility’”, he said.

“On the short term, but also on the long term, it affects the business–the entire ecosystem–pretty rapidly compared to any other [industry.]”

An attempt to “show the faces” behind blockchain

As such, the industry has changed quite a bit since the boom days of late 2017–but how have shifts in the industry affected BlockTV’s goals and visions for itself?

Ron explained that the basic vision behind BlockTV has stayed more or less the same. “We saw that there was a vacuum,” he said. “There are–and there were even more so, back then–a lot of publications doing crypto news. There are the big players–CoinDesk, CoinTelegraph…we saw that there was an interest, but that nobody was doing television [or] broadcast treatment of [the industry].”

He said that one of the reasons why and the founding members of BlockTV thought that TV-style news was necessary for the industry began with the fact that “at the end of the day, it’s not a big industry; it’s a small community.”

Our mantra was always ‘show the faces’,” he continued. “We’re talking with the community and for the community. It’s different to read a quote in a web story or hearing it in a podcast than if you actually see it in an interview with the people behind the headlines.”

Additionally, “our team–all of us that are involved in content–come from a journalistic background, and we thought that we could bring those standards, those practices, and norms that we were familiar with the space, and uphold those values in all our reporting.”

“Like the industry itself, everybody’s matured.”

Ron, who holds a Masters of Journalism degree from the University of British Columbia and also has a background in journalism outside of the crypto space, has also noticed the quality of journalism throughout the crypto industry improving. “Like the industry itself, everybody’s matured,” he said. “Everybody knows to take things with more good, healthy journalistic skepticism, and aren’t as quick to add adjectives to products and projects that are being reported about.”

Ron also said that he’s noticed a trend of “keener insights” among crypto journalism: “I think we’ve all gained experience–it’s such a young and nascent industry, especially on [journalistic] scales.”

“ It’s a learning process, maturation process, and I think we’re seeing that across the board–frankly, I think that organizations that didn’t do that didn’t last. If you’re just creating hype or just creating buzz, at some point it gets tiresome and unhelpful.”

The BLTV token ecosystem aims to share advertising revenue with users and reward valid sources

“Tokenization was always in the cards, since the inception of BlockTV,” Ron said. “We wanted to tokenize the journalistic model–from the getgo, we wanted to build up an audience first, and create a product, and start building out a brand before we issued the token, and that’s where we’re at now–we feel we’ve achieved sufficient recognition, though we always want more viewers, we want more eyeballs and more engagement.”

“The way we’re envisioning [the token], and the way it’s laid out in the whitepaper, is that it’s a token that it will be used in the long-term–not to be too grandiose about it–to change the financial model of our journalism and possibly others,” Ron said.

“Again, not to get ahead of ourselves,” he added, “but we think we have an interesting model that can be adopted by other organizations, other publications, other industries as well.”

Here’s how the model operates: “the BLTV token works in three ways, and the idea behind it is to connect advertisers on one hand to BlockTV the platform, our users, and journalistic sources, with an economy powered by the token.”

“Each one of these participants plays a role in this economy through a different [piece of] technology,” he continued.

Ethics and mechanics

One of these is called “Eye Prove” technology. “Advertisers pay a premium for quality interactions, and if you as a viewer can prove that you’ve seen an ad, that’s worth a lot more to advertisers. So, we have a model of revenue sharing between the advertisers and us and the viewer.” Users prove that they’ve seen an ad by scanning a barcode, and are rewarded with a piece of the advertising revenue.

Users can then use tokens to comment and engage with BlockTV in the “Engagement Center”, which also allows the, to do things like proposing or nominating guests on BlockTV shows.

The third use of the token is in the BlockTV newsroom. “Anybody who is a source of information can submit that information to BlockTV. If BlockTV decides to publish it, we do a revenue share with the person who gave the information based on a few variables,” for example, the number of views or impressions an article got. “BlockTV also reserves the right to ad bonuses if [the information] is of special importance.”

The full BLTV token ecosystem has not yet been launched, but the token itself has already been listed on Bittrex and several other cryptocurrency exchanges.

”Journalism is in dire need of a new financial model,” Friedman says

There have been several attempts at tokenizing journalistic platforms in the past–most famously, perhaps, the Civil project–but none of them have been very successful. How could BLTV be any different?

“I think that journalism is in dire need of a new financial model…if you don’t have deep pockets from ownership or a subscription model–even then, it’s very hard to make it. And that’s not crypto journalism, that’s journalism across the board.”

“We believe in cryptocurrencies as a whole,” he said. “We believe that they’ll be adopted, and that the good ones will be adopted soon enough to make a difference.”

Addressing criticism: does tokenizing journalism provide the wrong incentives to sources?

But the project has not been without criticism. “There’s been a fair share of that as well,” Ron acknowledged. “But we embrace that and accept that, and work in reaction to that.”

Much of the criticism has centered around concerns that having a tokenized journalistic models creates poor incentives–for example, observers drawing a correlation between BlockTV running certain stories and the BLTV token price coincidentally rising or decreasing. As a result, some crypto industry insiders believe that news organizations should not run on tokenized models at all.

However, if there is indeed a correlation between the BLTV token price rising and falling and the presence (or absence) of certain pieces of news from the platform, it could be argued that having a public blockchain seems to provide more transparency about such a possibility rather than less.

Ron also pointed to another piece of criticism, which centers on rewarding journalistic sources with tokens–that ”if you’re incentivizing sources with tokens, it takes away from the objectivity,” he said. “But what are the motivations as they exist now?”

“When sources turn to you, they’re usually expecting to gain something from it promotional-wise, or they’re expecting their competitors to lose out from it, or they’re expecting a return of some sort,” Ron said. “I think this [tokenized model] makes it all the more transparent.”

He added that from his point of view, the presence of the tokenized model doesn’t inherently change the platform’s journalistic practices.

“We abide by journalistic practices and norms and values just the same way that others do, and at the same time, we’re offering a new incentive that’s neutral,” he said. “It’s not politically motivated or ideologically motivated. It’s pretty straightforward capitalism.”

From Ron’s perspective, “if a source has a story and they want to pass it on to a news publication, they’re going to choose BlockTV over somebody else because of the token–because we value that source and are able to share revenue with them. There are worse motivations.”

This was an excerpt. To hear the rest of Finance Magnates’ interview with Ron Friedman, editor in chief at BlockTV, please visit us on SoundCloud or YouTube

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