decentralized journalism blockchain

“In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media – such as newspapers, TV and radio – when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly – a great deal, a fair amount, not very much or none at all?” This is the question Gallup started asking the American people in 1972. According to polling data, “trust and confidence” in news media hit an all-time high of 68 percent in 1976, possibly due to the investigative journalism that characterized Vietnam and Watergate. That number has since plummeted. By 2016 only 32 percent of Americans told the polling company they had “a great deal or fair amount” of trust in news. Gallup concluded about its own study, “now, only about a third of the U.S. has any trust in the Fourth Estate, a stunning development for an institution designed to inform the public.”

“The purpose of journalism,” as described in Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s book “ The Elements of Journalism,” “is not defined by technology, nor by journalists or the techniques they employ.” Rather “the principles and purpose of journalism are defined by something more basic: the function news plays in the lives of people.” This mentality about journalism may have been overstepped in recent years as money from corporate influences have affected the integrity of news outlets, but a small East Coast start-up is looking to change that. Decentralized News Network (DNN) is replacing the corporate platform, which has come to define mass media, with the Ethereum blockchain platform. The hope is that by capitalizing on what the Ethereum platform offers, journalism and news can be given back over to the people they are supposed to serve.

In a show of good faith, Samit Singh and Dondrey Taylor, founders of DNN, recently reached out to the Ethereum community on a popular internet forum to share a draft of their white paper. The draft earns credibility for the new media network by opening itself up to public scrutiny in the earliest phases of planning and development while simultaneously energizing the public about the power of their idea. Singh and Taylor make their case for empowering a new generation of journalism by sticking to what journalists do best, presenting the facts.

Per the white paper, “In 1983, 90 percent of the U.S. news industry was owned and controlled by 50 different companies. Thirty-four years later, 90 percent of American news coverage, whether read, watched or listened to, flows from just six media conglomerates.” By relating this data, compiled by the Columbia Journalism Review, which tracks the rise of corporate ownership of news outlets, to the Gallup poll data tracking public trust in mass media, a stark truth emerges, corporate influences destroy public confidence in journalism. The undercurrents of mass media today are “analogous to the type of scenario we see within the U.S. telecom and cable industries, little-to-no regulation or transparency, a handful of massive corporations presiding over an oligopoly, a noticeable lack of choices for consumer consumption, and an overall anti-consumer tilt that favors profits over quality and satisfaction.”

Removing corporate backing and revenue from advertisers is just the beginning, and many competitors vying to save the news industry have also already thought of that. What separates DNN from the pack is its focus, politics, and a community-networking scheme that gamifies content review and payouts. Using a compensation structure that relies on incentives to write or review articles, DNN will be powered by its own “DNN token,” which is divisible by up to 18 decimal places, and powers the blockchain network. The tokens are available to be purchased directly from an exchange or can be earned by making contributions in one of the four DNN niches. DNN will be comprised of four essential groups: writers, reviewers, readers, and publishers. These groups will interact with one another in a way unique to communicating over a blockchain.

The writers will submit content, treading as closely to stringent DNN guidelines as possible to increase their chances of publication. Those wishing to write or report on a given political topic, no matter their background, can submit articles to be saved in a distributed file-store (DNN will use the InterPlanetary File System) for later reference on the Ethereum blockchain. Writers pay a writing fee in DNN tokens to submit their articles. They have a chance to earn DNN tokens in return based on the ecosystem’s interest generated by their articles.   

Reviewers will then use DNN tokens to bid for a chance to edit a given article. Bidding ceases after seven editors have been selected. Once all seven editors have cast their votes for a particular article, either in favor of publication or not, an article moves through the DNN pipeline for publication or is returned to the writer with any constructive criticism attached. Should an article make it through the review process, it will be published on-chain amongst every node for the entire community to view. Reviewers have the opportunity to earn DNN tokens by evaluating a given article’s suitability for the news network. 

Readers on DNN play a special role. Not only do they consume the content being produced, they play a constructive role in molding and shaping DNN news content. Readers can address their concerns in a variety of ways, including by adding notes, sharing, up or down voting, bookmarking, or suggesting new article topics. Readers earn DNN tokens by making article pitches to writers. A portion of the DNN tokens earned by a writer for a given article will be sent to the reader who suggested the topic.

Publishers on DNN will play a distinct gatekeeper role separate from the writers, editor-reviewers, or readers. Those acting as publishers on DNN will serve as chain nodes, as an intermediary between the content creators, reviewers, and consumers and the Ethereum blockchain itself. Specialized DNN user interface and network interface software will be installed on each publisher node. In this critical role, publishers do not hold any articles or data from users, but rather read and implement commands from the DNN system. Peer-to-peer protocols, using cryptography, allow publishers to communicate with one another outside of DNN. These are primarily used to pass system state statuses between node hosts. Publishers earn DNN tokens by acting as network node hosts.

Users of DNN, except for the readers, will all have reputations associated with their network actions. These reputations help to identify a user’s performance at a glance creating a type of community accountability. Per the white paper, malicious actors attempting to infiltrate the review process will have to work around DNN’s game theory countermeasures. These include redundancies based around the Von Neumann-Morgenstern Utility Theorem and Schelling points.  

DNN’s creators have big plans for the future. From creating a DNN Foundation to promote and maintain the network to live-streaming political debates and adding additional features, this news start-up is already thinking big about how to take the news back from corporate influences.

Jordan Daniell is a writer living in Los Angeles. He brings a decade of business intelligence experience researching emerging technologies to bare in reporting on blockchain and Ethereum developments. He is passionate about blockchain technologies and believes they will shape the future fundamentally. Jordan is a full time staff writer for ETHNews.
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