Civil has had more than its fair share of press. This article marks the sixth time since August that we here at BREAKERMAG have written about the ambitious blockchain journalism startup. Then again, a lot of the coverage hasn’t been favorable. Civil’s much-touted token sale, with its unduly complicated purchasing process, was a high-profile flop—it missed its $8 million minimum target by $6.55 million. But Civil is giving it another go. Today it’s relaunching with a renewed focus on independent journalism and a new, more straightforward token sale. And it’s attempting to keep things relatively lowkey.
“I am concerned about expectations,” Vivian Schiller, head of the not-for-profit Civil Foundation, tells BREAKERMAG. “There’s no question that last time around we maybe got more attention than we deserved, considering we hadn’t launched anything yet. That’s why we’re lying a little bit low right now. We want a slow build, and we want people to join us over time and not expect miracles overnight.”
The platform is announcing the names of 100 small- and medium-sized newsrooms, across five continents, that have signed on for the project. (Among other perks, member newsrooms will be able to index and permanently archive their content to the blockchain using Civil’s publishing platform.) Also today, 34 million CVL tokens will become available to the public. Those tokens will start at 20 cents apiece; the price will increase as they’re sold, ultimately hitting a maximum of 94 cents.
If all 34 million are sold—and there’s no time limit on that goal—it will net the Civil Foundation $20 million. The crypto-averse will be able to contribute to the foundation using a credit card, but they won’t get the voting rights token holders are afforded. (There is a fixed supply of 100 million CVL; the remaining 66 million tokens are split between partner organizations, the Civil Media Co., and the Civil Foundation.)
One of Civil’s goals is to engender trust in the media in this era of fake news. Token holders will be able to vote to, say, rebuke newsrooms that violate the Civil Constitution, or refuse membership to an ethically dubious outlet like Info Wars (Schiller’s example). Decisions can be appealed to the nine-member Civil Council, essentially the project’s Supreme Court. Members can, in turn, overrule the council.
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“It may seem like a very complex structure with all kinds of moving parts,” Schiller says, “but of course, we’ve seen on other tech platforms that things can go wrong. We want to anticipate every way that it can go wrong so that we have the systems in place to make sure that Civil can’t be gamed.”
In the meantime, please don’t get carried away with your “blockchain will save journalism” takes. “Yes, today is a giant step forward for Civil, but it’s the beginning of a long journey,” Schiller says. “We’re not expecting anything revolutionary to happen today, or tomorrow. We’re talking about trying to do something that is very hard, and we’re going to need to do it in partnership with a lot of people, and that takes time. This is not a short-term project.”