In a new Breakermag report on the current state of crypto news outlets paying for coverage using cryptocurrency, Corine Faife highlights the scare that is beyond fake news in the media. Objectivity in any coverage has become arguably obsolete, as the Faife report emphasizes the alarming growth of, ‘brand coverage disguised as journalism.’
This rise in paid coverage may not be new – similar to how ‘fake news’ may not be new – but both are more digitally disguised than ever. The mainstream media, according to Faife has ‘ignored blockchain companies’ since the technology continued to advance, and become more complex. However, what Faife found at the end of his experiment report was that more than half of the ‘crypto’ publications were willing to publish paid content without disclosing it.
“Cryptocurrency is just a new form of money, so I don’t think it has any more impact on news reporting than regular money does.” Says Faife. “I also don’t think it’s good or bad for journalism – it’s just neutral, like money. Also, the platforms I reached out to didn’t say they required payment with crypto, I could just as easily have paid the bribes with USD.”
‘Pay for play’ has always tainted the media industry. Fashion media, with its growing use of influencer marketing and adversarial editorials, is notorious for this, which according to the Business of Fashion, has “killed the fashion magazine.” One example being, earlier this year, undisclosed compensation for online coverage was highlighted in connection with online influencers and the beauty industry.
Judith Ohikuare, who writes for Refinery29 about money, and the popular ‘money diaries’ series, believes that, “overall, it doesn’t appear to me that this is specifically a problem of cryptocurrency but of journalistic ethics in general. If we’re speaking about covering crypto, I think journalists have a responsibility to accurately convey the potential gains and risks of it to readers as they would any currency or commodity.”
Anna Battista, a freelance journalist who frequently collaborates with Dazed digital, and an independent scholar & founder or Irenebrination, wrote a story in Novemeber titled “Could Blockchain and Crytocurrencies Fix Fashion Journalsim?”
Battista explains when asked if the blockchain and cryptocurrencies be used to develop new models for fashion journalism, that, “adverts have always supported all sorts of publications, from small to big ones, and fashion journalism thrived on advertising: it is well known that writing an unfavorable review of a runway show or a mildly critical feature implies the loss of your seat at a catwalk show and of the contract from that powerful fashion house for their new beauty ad.”
She continues with an example, “Eleven years ago, Franca Sozzani, the late Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia was at the center of a major conflict of interests as her partner and Vogue Italia/L’Uomo Vogue art director Luca Stoppini also directed an advertising company and used to take care of the campaigns of quite a few fashion houses and brands appearing on Condé Nast magazines. The conflict sparked a debate: should these figures be called consu-journalists (a hybrid term combining “consultant” and “journalist”) and should they be considered as objective reporters if their lack of integrity and criticism damaged the fashion system? The answer was never found. In the meantime, traditional advertising models that supported journalism and in particular fashion journalism collapsed with the arrival of social media; new technologies introduced innovative systems to reach out to readers and consumers. As brands started investing in new ways to advertise their products, ad revenue disappeared pushing some publications to find other funding alternatives: including installing cryptocurrency mining software on their websites.”
When asked about the ‘crypto epidemic’ influencing fashion reporting, Ohikuare also states that, “getting paid for a story and having the company write the text without noting that it was sponsored would be unethical whatever currency you’re getting paid in, not just crypto, and in whatever beat, not just fashion.”
Perhaps cryptocurrency is no direct threat to journalistic ethics, rather it is terribly misunderstood and too advanced. The idea of the blockchain and journalism is a concept that, ironically, was created to branch away from institutionalized media, and help trump the ongoing noise of ‘fake news’.
One of the first blockchain media organizations to gain attention is Civil. Faife describes it as, “an interesting experiment, but the biggest challenge to journalism is to find a new funding model for the digital era. Blockchain technology can contribute to that, but it’s not a silver bullet.”
So, what can blockchain do for journalism?
Another report, this time in the New York Times, discussed the complexities of journalism and cryptocurrency last week. The story, which concludes that there is too much ‘hype’ around cryptocurrency technology, and that it is simply just ‘incomprehensible. The story is titled “Alas, the Blockchain Won’t Save Journalism After All.”
“We may or may not end up making t-shirts with that on it, we will see,” jokes Matt Coolidge, the co-founder of Civil: a new-model news network based on blockchain technologies. “I think that cryptocurrency is well known and a polarizing part of blockchain technology right now, but it is really just an extension of this larger technology. I think that if you look at what blockchain can do, not just for journalism but for any industry, this is where it becomes much more interesting.”
“The idea is to take the middle man out of the equation.” Continues Coolidge. “For example, about Fox News or CNN today, they are both wildly profitable companies that are making most journalism scholars vomit in their mouths or turn over in their graves. It’s because their incentive is to reach and monetize as much of a large audience a possible, they’re not making their money you know from people who are policing them for their morals, they are making money from their advertisers.”
“Blockchain technology can help introduce a new, ad-free model, but fashion doesn’t exist without adverts and, while readers may be intrigued at the prospect of objective news stories about a fashion house or a designer,” says Anna Battista regarding whether or not fashion – like most of the world – is ready to fathom the world of blockchain. “Autonomous, impartial and objective journalism in fashion may remain a unicorn as it is would be almost impossible to write investigative features about a specific fashion house without having access to it (and PR officers wouldn’t let you do it).”
For the current state of fashion reporting, Battista believes that, “Civil’s idea: creating a new environment for matching a creator and a content with paying audience, a marketplace regulated by the community – is bold – yet this may not be of interest to mainstream fashion journalism for it needs a new ecosystem where conglomerates are not scared of reporters asking questions and designers do not use PR officers to answer questions sent to them via email – fashion needs a new place where investigations could also be carried out.”
Once again, it seems that technology is way too ahead, especially for fashion. The real ‘epidemic’ when it comes to fashion reporting can easily be misinterpreted when analyzing the advanced technologies of cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain. The issue that is most conspicuous to most modern media reporting lies in the ethics.
The answer to whether or not the blockchain will save or destroy journalism, is perhaps too premature. However, Coolidge explains that, “journalism right now is again facing these whim choices, between trust and sustainability, the blockchain is certainly not going to universally solve either of those overnight. But, it has the technology to build an economy that is looking to build ethical newsroom businesses by plugging into this network, reintroducing dialogue and finding easier ways to engage with readers. Time will tell if it works, but that is what we are trying to do and given the state of things right now, it is certainly something we feel extremely passionate about and will fight with every breath we have to make it a reality.”