Jarrod Dicker was a bartender who wanted to be a writer when he began asking musicians if he could interview them. He started out with pieces on music establishments like The Stone Pony in Asbury Park—a big deal for New Jersey natives like Dicker—before realizing that he could essentially bluff his way into scoring more interviews. “I was lying about who I was interviewing before to get interviews, to the point where I eventually had enough interviews to be able to keep doing this.”
The rest of Dicker’s media career followed that same pattern; he confidently suggested he could do something, and, in attempting to do it, mastered it. When he got a job at the Huffington Post through Craigslist, he said he had no idea what the Huffington Post was. “I just needed money to help facilitate my rock and roll music dream of, you know, interviewing and writing about musicians.” The Huffington Post is where Dicker says he helped launch the idea of native advertising.
Then came the job at Time Inc., followed by nearly three years at the Washington Post. There, Dicker founded RED, the Post’s research, experimentation, and development group. Now, he’s the CEO of Po.et, a company that, in his words, wants to “make it possible for anyone who is creating any IP anywhere to stamp it and own that information on the blockchain, and then be able to build a reputation and manage it directly.” The company also wants to bring transparency to that IP. In the case of journalism, this means letting readers easily fact-check reporters.
Po.et’s mission also brings up the idea of selling tweets for thousands of dollars and turning journalists into rock stars, a possibility that harkens back to the early days of Dicker’s music writing career. BREAKER caught up with him to talk about what media people often talk about when they’re together—the future of media.
You said the Washington Post was the “best job of your life.” What about Po.et?
Po.et hasn’t beat that yet. When they first reached out to offer me the job, I never said no fast enough, because that was mid-blockchain hype. We were thinking about blockchain applications at the Washington Post, and while I loved the idea and what I knew about Po.et at the time, I didn’t necessarily want to jump yet. This was October 2017. So as I kept digging deeper and deeper into it, I kept thinking, Wow, this is a real problem, like proof of effort, right? As misinformation is coming out, and our president is constantly fogging everyone’s purview of what’s real, this is a bigger and bigger problem. Decentralization and immutability made sense as a way to make sure information cannot be manipulated, like provenance of information—where did it come from, how do I know this video is not a deepfake, and is that actually Barack Obama speaking?
Like that Jordan Peele video.
Right. There are real issues that are happening that need immutability and then also need to be controlled directly within the network, that couldn’t necessarily just be gate-kept. That was very clear with Google and Facebook, where you would go to Facebook and information would be there that the company was struggling to battle, but they weren’t necessarily sure whether or not they should be battling it. And I don’t necessarily fault Facebook for not policing the web.
So Po.et’s job will not be to “police the web”?
I think there is danger in putting philosophies and all your passion inside of your technology, and inside of your service, if you want everyone to use it. So that is somewhat of a thing that we focus on here at Po.et. We’re not necessarily looking to curate or divide how people should be perceiving things, right? If Alex Jones per se wants to put information on Po.et, we’re not stopping him. Now, I don’t know what the benefit for him would be, because it would further expose the information that he is putting out.
Is there a line, then? Would there be people you’d ever say “no” to about joining Po.et?
I think a key point is that we are not an application, we are a protocol. We will build applications on top of that. So at the protocol level, the more information the better. It helps us build a verifiable claims structure. In a very simple way, we’re bringing reputation to the web, helping creators follow their value, no matter where they go, to show the content they have created and how much time they’ve spent on it.
Can you explain your idea of creating something like a “nutritional label” to display this information?
We’re creating baseline metrics—“ingredients” and “nutritional value” that can be the same no matter who is creating content. So it could be Alex Jones, it could be David Fahrenthold [of the Washington Post], it could be any creator. Who is the author of a piece of content? Where has that author created in the past? What are the identification metrics tied to that author, like have they won a Pulitzer or are they a former PGA Tour champion? I don’t know where that example came from.
Who is using Po.et right now?
Po.et has a community of about 50,000. We’re launching to main net in the next few weeks. Right now, we get a lot of content creators and journalists. It’s just because of they are constantly creating a lot of text and putting it out there, and publishers see a lot of value in it. But we’ve also seen academic journals, some musicians.
Similar to music, I think you’ll start seeing media companies acknowledge what they’re bringing to the table—like representing certain creators and being able to get them distribution and get them paid. Advertisers and subscribers want to follow creators themselves and not necessarily subscribe to, like, the New York Times. An advertiser may not want to advertise on the New York Times. That advertiser may want to advertise with Maureen Dowd.
Like how Britney Spears was the face of Pepsi for a while? I know that’s a dated reference…
One hundred percent. It could be journalists or musicians, right? What we’re building could work for musicians or maybe physical artists and digital artists… I believe that the future web needs to be interoperable, and we’ve seen that with people [creating content] just for Facebook or just for Snapchat or just for Twitter.
You see articles made up of different people’s tweets reacting to some moment..
If you’re putting things through Po.et, you start building IP on the blockchain… Say I’m a photographer, and I do a photoshoot in my studio and Trey Anastasio from Phish walks by. I take a photo of him, and I put it up on Twitter, and everyone’s like, Wow, that’s great. And then I get an @ mention from Rolling Stone magazine, and they’re like, ‘Hey Jarrod, we love this, do you mind if we use it?’ And I’m like, ‘Sure.’ So I send them a private key with the contract that has the rights of use for it. So now my IP, just because I put out there, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s free. I can now manage my information.
How much would you charge someone for a particularly good tweet, if someone asked you?
So I think what’s funny is, you can become similar to the paparazzi model with your tweets, depending on whatever angle you take. You’re like, ‘Maybe I should charge $10 for this.’ Someone pays that, and you’re like, ‘Shit, I should have charged $20.’ Then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Maybe this is worth thousands of dollars.’
So if this goes well, someone could sell their tweets for thousands of dollars?
Yes, yes. Or they’ll just rethink the process of how they put their IP out there.
This interview has been edited and condensed.