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3 ways blockchain technology can benefit news publishers

Blockchain has been hailed as a solution to a variety of problems across different industries. Blockchain’s advocates hold that it is a revolutionary technology. But how much of this holds water and how much is just hype? A recent WAN-IFRA report, Blockchain and the Future of News attempts to answer some of these questions for news publishers.

Many people are trying to apply blockchain to whatever comes to their mind simply because there’s a hype around it. I think you have to think about whether the technology actually brings something to the table and is useful for that kind of industry.

Dominik Thor, CEO, Vaultitude, a blockchain-based intellectual property protection company

According to the report, blockchain technology can benefit news publishers in the following 3 ways:

1. Establish credibility through transparency and accountability

Blockchain is based on a distributed ledger that records every single change (somewhat like a document revision history) and makes sure that the record itself is impossible to destroy. Once a piece of content has been published on blockchain, it cannot be altered or deleted. It is also indelibly marked with information about its origin, modification and time of publication. This creates a high degree of transparency and accountability, which can help news publishers assert their credibility, and build reader trust.

Last year, Forbes signed up with blockchain-based journalism startup Civil to publish metadata from a selection of its articles on blockchain. One of its intentions behind this experiment was to ensure the integrity of its archives. If the experiment is successful, the company plans to publish all its metadata on blockchain in the future.

Forbes and Civil believe passionately in the mission of journalism, and together we can provide audiences with a level of unprecedented transparency around our content. We’ll also be able to expand the reach of our writers and identify new revenue channels over time.

Salah Zalatimo, Senior Vice President, Product & Technology, Forbes

Transparency and accountability also make blockchain attractive to news sites that are vulnerable to governmental, or corporate interference and associated threats like censorship, hacking, or cyber attack.  

Sludge, an investigative reporting site which produces journalism on lobbying and money in politics has also partnered with Civil to protect its IP. Sludge Co-Founder, David Moore says, “To report on these topics we knew we needed editorial independence, and Civil provides that in several ways. With blockchain, we can report fearlessly on the powerful special interests in corporations, and archiving our work to Ethereum [a leading blockchain] prevents our database from being purchased by a bad actor or a billionaire. So we can offer readers the strongest possible tech assurance that our reporting is the same as when we published it.”

2. Track copyright violations and monetize content

There are few safeguards against theft of content on the internet. Violation of copyright laws through unauthorized republication is easy and can be profitable. Blockchain’s capability to indisputably record and display the origin and time of publication – and any republication – of any kind of content makes it well-suited for intellectual property protection. It can be used to track republication of images and articles. This would allow publishers to enforce ownership and establish licensing arrangements.

The Associated Press entered into a two part deal with Civil last August. According to the deal, AP would license its content to Civil’s network of newsrooms, while Civil would help AP track the flow of its content and enforce licensing rights using blockchain-based technology.

AP has been pushing into new digital territory for more than two decades, and Civil is opening up another new space with interesting technology to explore and a commitment to good journalism. We’re eager to help cultivate the space and demonstrate our value to a new set of digital publishers.

Jim Kennedy, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Enterprise Development, Associated Press 

Blockchain also has the potential to help publishers accept micropayments for their content. Currently, trying to pay a very small amount for a single article is not feasible with credit cards because the fees would cost the publisher far more than the income. “Once you’re in a crypto-economic world there are no transaction fees, there is no middleman, and they can make those donations directly to that news organization – they can give them as little as a few cents,” says, Civil Foundation’s CEO and news publishing veteran, Vivian Schiller.

3. Combat ad fraud

The digital ad ecosystem is mired in problems of viewability, fraud, and a lack of transparency, among others. Ad fraud is on the rise and ad blockers are common. Google and Facebook take away most of the digital ad revenues. And most publishers simply can’t provide advertisers with metrics that can effectively measure ad performance. This could probably be why a 2018 Reuters Institute survey found that more than 62% of global publishers believed that digital advertising will become less important as a revenue stream over time, with 10% already planning for a future with no display advertising at all.

According to the WAN-IFRA report, more than a few startups are betting that blockchain can breathe a new life into the digital ad industry. The technology has an apparently perfect solution to the problem because it uses a completely transparent record that is stored on a public ledger. It cannot be altered by either party or by any outside fraudsters.  And both advertiser and publisher can view the ledger to verify the exact number of impressions for the campaign.

Ad fraud is pervasive in the current market due to the opaque and complex network of publishers, platforms, and agencies. In the blockchain-driven digital ad economy, buyers and sellers will be able to verify the placement and viewability of each ad impression.

The Forbes Agency Council

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has created a working group to “investigate the application of blockchain technology to address challenges in the digital ad space and to develop standards and best practices for the use of the technology.”

The IAB says advertising can benefit from blockchain in the following ways:

  1. In the complex digital ad supply chain, it can increase efficiency and ensure reliable, secure and high-quality data.
  2. It can enable efficient, low-cost transactions.
  3. It can increase trust and transparency among participants in the advertising process by making a fully verifiable set of records available to all.

What’s next for publishers

WAN-IFRA talked with Walid Al-Saqaf, Senior Lecturer in Media Technology and Journalism at Södertörn University in Sweden, about how news publishers interested in getting involved with blockchain could do so without spending a lot or taking a big risk. Al-Saqaf suggested three steps. These are:

  1. Learn how cryptocurrencies work. An investigation into the APIs of a couple of the main blockchains would help publishers form an idea about the interactions between clients and blockchains.
  2. Start accepting cryptocurrency as payment from advertisers. Al-Saqaf says this does not require a major investment. One person in the finance department of the publisher can be equipped with a “wallet,” a software or hardware based means of accepting and storing cryptocurrency. He or she then can act as a proxy for the company.
  3. Set up a system to protect intellectual property. Such a project can be done in-house or outsourced. It involves getting copies of all articles published by the news outlet “hashed”. The “hash” is then stored on the blockchain and can help the publisher assert its ownership of the content when required.  

According to Al-Saqaf, these three steps require very little investment but would go a long way in helping publishers understand how the blockchain ecosystem works.

For in-depth details, please download the full WAN-IFRA report, Blockchain and the Future of News

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