Can Blockchain save the Media? Christine Mohan of Civil explains

Christine Mohan, Civil

Christine Mohan is Co-founder of Civil, a journalism platform built using blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies. At Civil she manages partnerships, community and events, and customer operations and, more broadly, is an advocate for diversity in the blockchain community.

What first got you interested in blockchain and distributed ledger technology?

A media colleague recommended I look into blockchain, so I spent a long weekend “going down the rabbit hole” – reading articles and watching YouTube videos. I was fascinated by the social, economic and business implications. It reminded me of the dotcom days in the early 1990s, but much more mission-driven. So I started attending blockchain Meetups in New York City – there’s one nearly every night – and met incredibly creative and committed people across the industry. The Women in Blockchain group in particular has excellent programming and guest speakers.

What are the unique properties of blockchain technology which you think will enable changes in the media industry?

Immutable archives are a very powerful property that can make journalism censorship-resistant, beyond the reach of the powerful or rich. Transparency in the sourcing and publishing process is also key. For Civil specifically, decentralization of newsrooms will ensure the autonomy of each newsroom to determine coverage areas and revenue models.

What is Civil and how did the idea come about?

Civil is a marketplace for sustainable journalism, built on blockchain and cryptoeconomics. Our founder Matthew Iles has a background in journalism and founded a marketing agency. He was interested in developing a new business model for news that would not be dependent on advertising. Matthew also wanted to restore the direct connection between journalists and their readers.

What stage is the company at in terms of its development?

In Q2, Civil will launch its token sale and news platform with 10-15 newsrooms comprised of 100+ journalists. The newsrooms will focus on local, international, policy and investigative reporting, which are the hardest hit and most underfunded areas of journalism today. We currently have 21 employees in New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C. and Warsaw, Poland and will continue to grow our team globally.  

What was your background before you got involved in blockchain?

I’ve worked in tech and media for the past 25 years, from small startups to large corporations like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. I’ve also worked at a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. and non-profits in Boston and Brooklyn. I’ve had great experiences launching digital products and services across a wide range of industries.

Do you see other areas within the creative industries where you think blockchain is becoming a force for good in terms of helping enable new business models and/or helping creators safeguard and monetise their ideas?

Established corporations in the creative industry currently dictate the relationship and revenue exchange between creator and consumer. Blockchain technology can help level this playing field. Companies like Ujo, SingularDTV and Cellarius are utilizing blockchain to disrupt the current, centralized media business models in music, broadcast and publishing. Restoring ownership rights to the creators, creating more efficient and frictionless payment models, protecting copyrights, and enabling peer-to-peer distribution are critical to autonomy.

Do you think the token sale phenomenon can help ‘democratise’ investment, particularly for women?

Investments in the blockchain space require the same due diligence as more traditional investments, if not more. It’s still a young industry so networking is critical for all individual investors – you need to attend the industry conferences to meet the founders firsthand, in addition to researching the product, studying the whitepaper and following the community on Telegram.

What are the next steps for you and Civil – what should we be looking out for in the rest of 2018?

Civil recently contributed €450,000 as part of a larger €1.7 million program that will be overseen by the European Journalism Center in partnership with the News Integrity Initiative (part of The City University of New York’s School of Journalism). This accelerator program will provide grants to 10-15 promising European newsrooms focused on sustainability and reader engagement. Over the coming weeks, we will announce additional Civil newsrooms in the U.S. and globally, including Southeast Asia.  

Will blockchain put an end to fake news?

We believe it will be an important tool to fight fake news, censorship and disinformation. Public trust in media is at an all-time low, and blockchain can add a layer of transparency to restore that trust. Collective media literacy is also critical. All of us, as citizens and news consumers, need to become familiar with emerging disinformation tactics such as video that’s been altered. AI and VR are the next tools that bad actors will leverage for their disinformation campaigns.

Interested in learning more? We we will be exploring the benefits of blockchain to the creative industries – including the media – at ‘Creatives: Unblocked’ on 29 June in London. Register for tickets here.

You can find out more about Civil here or follow Christine on Twitter.

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