How Does it Work?
Why is Civil built on the Ethereum blockchain — and how does this introduce a new funding model for journalism?
The Ethereum blockchain plays a foundational role in Civil's model: it enables the creation of a custom token, CVL, which is based on the ERC20 protocol. The token is a value stored in a decentralized database that's managed by Civil's smart contract, which allows the Civil platform to interact with the CVL token. In essence, CVL is the software that bridges Civil with the Ethereum blockchain. It's vital to Civil's overall model, as it unlocks two vital business features for journalists: self-governance and permanence.
Civil will offer four core experiences for users
The first place a Newsmaker goes upon earning access to Civil's platform. Here they may manage permissions for their workforce, manage their public account information and visual brand identity, define and price editorial products, manage their finances, and review the performance analytics. While not all of these features will be included within our initial launch product, our priority is to consistently build in-demand tools for newsrooms to experiment and scale viable business models in an open and responsive way.
Content management system
A minimalist drafting experience that will, among other features, allow journalists to permanently publish the text of an article directly to the blockchain by simply checking a box. It's a user interface built as a decentralized application on Ethereum and will enable journalists to easily upload and modify content.
Where people discover and consume good journalism on Civil. Newsrooms are the primary brand throughout the citizen user experience, with Newsmakers possessing lightweight abilities to customize their visual brand identity. Citizens will enjoy an intuitive reading experience, including specific features designed to increase media literacy and to make it quick and easy to compensate Newsrooms. One such feature is Credibility Indicators: simple visual cues that represent different elements that went into the reporting of a given story (e.g., on-the-ground reporting, stories containing original reporting, whether the reporter is a subject matter expert). This approach aims to start conditioning Citizens to ask critical questions about how and why a given story was reported, not just on Civil but anywhere publishing news.
All CVL token holders will gain access to Civil's token-curated registry (more detail on this below). The registry is a whitelist of Newsrooms approved to publish content on Civil's platform. All whitelisted Newsrooms must sign the Civil Journalism Ethics Guideline, and pledge that they are good actors committed to upholding Civil's code of conduct. Any community member may mount a challenge to new or existing applicants via CVL tokens. In the near future, this registry model will expand significantly and be the self-governance system for nearly every transaction that occurs within the Civil ecosystem.
The Civil Media Company has built its product suite around a user-based design model. Everything on Civil is built with an eye towards making the process of supporting quality journalism as intuitive as possible. The underlying, token-based economy that powers the larger Civil marketplace, meanwhile, is entirely predicated on new business models unlocked by the advent of Ethereum and its decentralized nature. Tokens are the software by which key decisions on Civil will be made. A large community of CVL token holders will power these decisions.
It's important to note that holding CVL tokens — or even having an existing knowledge of, or will to purchase, cryptocurrency is not a prerequisite for experiencing a Newsroom that runs on Civil. Newsrooms will be able to accept compensation from the communities they serve in any currency preferred by the end consumer (e.g. USD, EUR or KRW via credit cards; ETH or CVL via web wallets). Civil is offering such an expansive model for one, simple reason: its core mission is to make quality journalism as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. A working knowledge of blockchain and cryptocurrency should not — and will not — be a barrier to entry for readers.
CVL tokens will play a vital role in the governance of Newsrooms and the platform as a whole, and many members of the community — including readers, journalists and developers — will elect to use them to participate in the governance of Civil's platform from day one. For readers, the decision to do so is entirely optional, and the majority of Civil readers may not elect to interact with Civil at this level at first. That's entirely up to them; for some, Civil can be a marketplace for great journalism, and nothing more. For others, it can be a massive ecosystem in which participants are economically incentivized to promote good behavior that helps the platform grow and thrive, while keeping bad actors off of it.
This concept is known as the “Waterline.”
Readers and supporters, the largest contingent of Civil's community, will visit Newsrooms on Civil solely to access and support good journalism. Civil's core community — those holding CVL tokens and participating in the platform's governance, will exist underneath the Waterline. As CVL token holders, they will have the ability to vote on key decisions, including whether they meet the criteria and ethics laid out in the Civil Journalism Ethics Guideline, which outlines ethical standards for Newsrooms on Civil. To unlock access to Civil's publishing tools, Newsrooms will need to gain community consensus that they will be a good actor on the platform — and to be added to a whitelist of approved Newsmakers.
Incentivizing community developers
In addition to the Newsmakers, developers from the community will also play a central role at the “creator” level, which sits at the heart of Civil's ecosystem. As the community grows, so too will demand for new tools and features. Token curated registries can also apply to developers. It's likely that a whitelisted registry of community-approved apps will exist, akin to the whitelist of community-approved Newsrooms. This will be a way to quickly and effectively establish trust for the growing volume of community-driven tools and services that will be built on Civil, and begin to foster an app store-like economy that incentivizes screening for ethical developers, just as the current iteration does for Newsmakers.
Civil is committed to building a large and active developer community. The Civil Media Company will open source the code for all of its citizen-facing software and make it accessible on its GitHub page.
CVL and the Token-Curated Registry Model
To better illustrate this system of self-governance, known as a token-curated registry, consider the following example. A prospective Newsmaker applies to launch a Newsroom on Civil. Their application outlines their mission, vision and a sustainable business plan — as well as their signing and agreeing to abide by the Civil Journalism Ethics Guideline. To state the seriousness of their intent, they include a deposit of CVL tokens, which are stored in a smart contract and act as collateral against the parameters: that they're committed to building a sustainable Newsroom that honors the standards outlined by the Journalism Ethics Guideline. The community, which will be comprised of all CVL token holders, is notified of a new application. If the prospective Newsmaker has a sound plan and no red flags emerge, the community takes no action, and the application will be accepted after a finite review period.
If, however, something about the prospective Newsmaker's application elicits concern — perhaps they have been repeatedly and credibly accused of libel, or maybe they have a reputation for producing low-quality, poorly edited journalism — then somebody from the existing community can — and likely will — challenge the application. To do so, they'll match the prospective Newsmaker's CVL deposit with one of their own. The challenger will make his or her case as to why the prospective Newsmaker and their proposed Newsroom will not be a good addition to Civil's marketplace. They'll base their argument in one of (or several) principles in the Civil Journalism Ethics Guideline, and how they consider this applicant is in violation.
If the community agrees that an applicant violates any part of Civil's Journalism Ethics Guideline, they'll vote with the challenger. The marketplace they exist in will be as valuable as its participants make it. If its primary draw is that it's a source of high quality journalism, and basic governance and ethics standards are visible as a guiding methodology, then journalists and citizens have an economic incentive to ensure only qualified Newsmakers that will produce good content can join Civil's platform. Doing so will ensure that their addressable audience will continue to grow, that the CVL token is associated with high quality content and that each new Newsroom to join the platform will promote a network effect of growth — that they make the platform more valuable by joining, and that their individual Newsroom is also more valuable being part of Civil's marketplace than if it existed elsewhere.
As a further incentive, the challenger will recoup their deposit, while the failed applicant will lose theirs. Additionally, the challenger will get a specific percentage of the applicant's deposit, with the remainder split between those that voted with the majority in proportion to how many tokens they used to vote. Conversely, if a challenge to an applicant is not deemed to be credible, the challenger would lose their deposit — and the applicant would receive the majority of that deposit as a reward for successfully defending themselves against the challenge, with the remaining amount distributed proportionately to the winning voters. This concept, or game, economically incentivizes participation and adherence to “good behavior,” and makes it prohibitively difficult for bad actors and actions — Sybil attacks, spammers, bots, those actively propagating misinformation — to gain access and flourish on Civil.
Here's a graphical representation of what the challenge process looks like
The registry model will initially be a self-governing system for approving high-quality Newsrooms, but can scale to govern many other activities — including building networks that aggregate cross-Newsroom content, fact-checking, licensing, etc. — that occurs on the platform. All CVL token holders will have the right to challenge applications that they feel violate the Civil Journalism Ethics Guideline and vote from day one. This model ensures that an interdependence will form across citizens and journalists alike — and that each party will be economically incentivized to maintain this degree of quality as Civil's ecosystem continues to expand. CVL tokens represent a piece of software that enact smart contracts — meaning that these parameters are agreed to by all parties when entering this self-governing system, and are automatically enacted only when terms outlined by the Civil Journalism Ethics Guideline are met.
The structure of this model is similar to Wikipedia.
There are parallels to this self-governing model and Wikipedia, which similarly relies on an underlying system of self-governance. Most of us go there for information on a given topic — say, Paraguay. We read it, we trust that it's generally reliable — and we know there's an underlying, massive community of editors and contributors that are ensuring the continued good governance of the platform. Many of us don't know exactly how and why they operate as they do, but we know that the model works — and that the underlying mechanisms that power it are transparent for anybody that cares to dig deeper. Wikipedia has established an effective governance mechanism that enables a massive and crowd-operated information platform to work transparently, and at scale.
The key difference between Civil and Wikipedia is that content on Civil will only be written by those the larger community have deemed as professionals capable of sustaining a successful Newsroom that adheres to journalistic ethics and standards.
How Community Developers Can Get Involved
In addition to the Newsmakers, developers from the community will also play a central role at the “creator” level, which sits at the heart of Civil's ecosystem. As the community grows, so too will demand for new tools and features. The same token-curated registry model, described above, can extend to applications, too. A developer can submit a given Civil app to be whitelisted as “community-approved,” for instance. Once accepted, the app will appear alongside other proven community apps, and developers can be economically incentivized to build more tools for Newsrooms and the larger community.
Civil is committed to building a large and active developer community. Civil will open source the code for all of our citizen-facing software and make it accessible on our GitHub page (https://github.com/joincivil/civil.ts). Additionally, Civil maintains an active #dev channel on its public Slack.