Digital Innovation
3 mins read

Can cryptocurrency save the newspaper industry? WSJ creates its own coin to explore the possibilities

Yes, the Wall Street Journal created its own cryptocurrency.

8.4 billion coins, to be precise.

The fledgling currency even found a use for making transactions in the actual marketplace, albeit to buy a couple of beers.

True, it can’t claim credit (yet) for saving the newspaper industry, but the journey of exploring the possibilities is a fascinating one… documented by journalists Steven Russolillo and Clément Bürge of the WSJ in one of the most entertaining—yet informative—videos on crypto, embedded at the end of this article.

“I’ve been a markets reporter for 10 years, but I’ve never seen anything as wild as the cryptocurrency frenzy,” says Steven.

It seems that everybody wants to create their own cryptocurrency: Kodak, Playboy, Venezuela

The journey takes them to Japan, “a true crypto society…where the crypto industry has flourished in recent years,” and Hong Kong, and along the way in this crypto-creation process, they meet an incredible cast of characters.

It includes the spectacular “Virtual Currency Girls,” a band of young female pop singers who market crypto, a university professor who drives a “blockchain car” maintained through Bitcoin payments, and a Japanese developer who creates the WSJ Coin, and helps the reporter set its value at “one beer.”

It’s not all fun and games, though.

The documentary also digs into digital currency as a potential surveillance mechanism, provides insight into building the coin on the Iroha blockchain, explores the value of WSJ Coin as a possible payment system, and goes all the way to establish it as a viable currency, i.e., the all-important exchange listing.

Steven and the WSJ team then present the question, “Will the WSJ Coin save the newspaper industry?” on a panel at a WSJ tech conference in Hong Kong.

A close look at how the query is presented makes it pretty clear that a resounding “Yes!” was not exactly the expected response.

Then why all this time, effort and expenditure… if all of it was done on a lark?

“I realized if you really want to understand this crypto craze, you kinda have to be a part of it,” Russolillo said.

To understand what drives the wild cryptocurrency market—the technology, hype and innovation, combined with the hacking, market manipulation and increased regulation—we decided to experiment with a digital currency of our own.

Creating WSJ Coin, a virtual token for the newspaper industry, helped the WSJ team explore the universe of cryptocurrencies from the ground level, to the extent that they even took the pains of minting, literally, the physical counterpart of their own coin.

At the end, Steven Russolillo makes an impassioned case—tongue firmly in cheek—to the Wall Street Journal’s chief ethics officer, Neil Lipschitz.

This could be a way to save the newspaper industry.

“We are not in the business of entering the world of crypto currencies; we are here to report it and explain it,” Lipschitz replies. “Just as we report on banks, but we don’t go out and create a bank.”

We’re not going to create a coin.

And thus the WSJ crypto currency came to the end of its short-lived existence. Nevertheless, seeding the idea and opening up the possibility for new digital currencies to be created within the world of journalism, for use cases yet unexplored.

Watch the full-length documentary below. It’s a short, insightful, yet entertaining take, and definitely worth your time.

Click here to read the Wall Street Journal’s own coverage of the quest to create WSJ Coin.

Images courtesy of Wall Street Journal

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