Journalism is one industry that's been severely disrupted by technology as newspaper readers moved online. Many papers have yet to develop new revenue streams to replace their old models but a brand new start-up called Civil thinks technology may also be journalism's savior.
It involves average citizens buying a share of independent newsrooms with the help of cryptocurrency. Civil has now funded online journalism outlets from Chicago to Singapore.
"We've had 20 years or more of digital media being run primarily by companies like Google and Facebook that just do not care about journalism and have business models that are predicated on harvesting user data and serving you ads and it's harming journalism in a serious way," said Civil CEO Mathew Iles.
As the footprint of traditional newspapers is shrinking, Civil's footprint is growing. The goal is a marketplace for news owned and operated by journalists and citizens, funded in part by cryptocurrency. The information is archived using blockchain, decentralized and publicly owned online storage – a way to keep facts in the open and hackers out.
"The blockchain's immutable nature makes it next to impossible for anyone including governments, corporations, billionaires, to be able to essentially hack the blockchain and change some fact or record or information in the past….Sometimes journalism is referred to as the first draft of history. By using something like blockchain, we can imprint the first draft of history into a permanent and immutable archive," Iles said.
One of Civil's first test tubes consists of a group of seven reporters and three editors in Denver who all once worked at the Denver Post. Two shared Pulitzer Prizes for coverage there but all left amid cutbacks and layoffs mandated by its hedge fund owners whose demand for higher profits decimated the newsroom. Now they produce the Colorado Sun, nearly three weeks old with seed money from Civil.
"So we began those conversations and I can tell you it was exciting to be dreaming of building something new rather than to be collaborating in the destruction of a proud newspaper," said Colorado Sun editor Larry Ryckman.
The Sun has reported on how Colorado's Governor formed a PAC as a possible run for president, a climber remaking his life after a devastating fall and a dozen surgeries and a piece on the South Platte River.
Journalism is expensive and the Sun insists on paying reporters real salaries.
"You know we're all passionate about journalism but we all have lives and mortgages and rent to pay and kids in college and all of those kinds of things. And we're very fortunate in that the Colorado Sun has been able to provide all of us with salaries that are comparable to what we were making at the Denver Post or in some cases even more than we earned at the Denver Post," Ryckman said.
To pay its way as Civil's finding tapers off, it will depend on community and corporate supporters.
"For now we really are using more of a National Public Radio or Public Television kind of model which is to say to a company we're not going to help you sell mattresses or the Fourth of July or Washington's day or something like that. But if you believe in our mission and you believe in our company then we would be happy to have your support," Ryckman said.
Journalists have become accustomed to reporting bad news about their struggling profession. If Civil works in Colorado and elsewhere it may be a rare moment for reporters these days: A story about journalism with a happy ending.