Cryptocurrency grabbed the mainstream media’s attention last year as prices of bitcoin (BTC) and other digital currencies surged and then dropped sharply. Stories of fortunes won and lost in in mere days boosted readership at an increasing number of industry-focused publications.

But this new attention has raised questions about the quality of coverage by mainstream and online media. Some industry observers as well as the individuals covered by publications say there is too much emphasis on price fluctuations, and that stories by these publications are often inaccurate and ignore more important developments.

“Present media coverage fails to adequately stress the magnitude of the business reengineering and business model changes necessary to remain competitive when competitors begin leveraging blockchain,” says Charles Bell, chief product officer of Syncrasy Technologies, an India-based software provider that has focused increasingly on blockchain technology.

Publications are trying to work out how to approach the cryptocurrency phenomenon. That includes looking beyond the headline-making big price movements to balance the types of stories they run.

The focus on cryptocurrency has occurred as media organizations face the real problem of how to stand out amid increasing competition for audiences and sinking readership and ad revenue. This witch’s brew has forced news organizations to operate with limited resources, which hurts quality and, more importantly, their own reputations.

According to Bell, some outlets aren’t even sufficiently distinguishing between blockchain and cryptocurrency, using the terms interchangeably. “People fail to separate the concepts,” Bell says.

Buterin’s Boycott

Last month, the founders of ethereum (ETH), omiseGo (OMG) and cardano (ADA), said they would boycott the Consensus Conference hosted by the online publication CoinDesk over its article that mistakenly linked to a scam OmiseGo giveaway. “I am boycotting @coindesk‘s Consensus 2018 conference this year, and strongly encourage others to do the same,” wrote ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin in an April 26 tweet.

CoinDesk corrected its mistake and defended its editorial policies. The Consensus Conference is widely considered to be the crytocurrency world’s most significant event.

Readership figures are difficult to pinpoint, but CoinDesk and CoinTelegraph combined receive about 17 million unique visitors each month, according to marketing information posted on their websites. According to the content marketing research site Detailed, the top 10 cryptocurrency publications received about 45,000 online mentions over a 24-hour period earlier this week. Detailed updates the 50 leading sites on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, leading business publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Economist, the Financial Times and Bloomberg all have run major features on cryptocurrency and bolstered coverage of it.

Yet, all these publications are all largely working out how they want to approach this new phenomenon. That includes looking beyond the headline-making big price movements to balance the types of stories they run.

Blockchain May Be the Answer

Ironically, the very technology that journalists are trying to grasp may hold a key to their industry’s success. For example, blockchain may help journalists verify facts and streamline the process of assigning and even editing stories. Bernard Peh, lead blockchain technologist at the Australian exchange Blockbid, said in an email interview with ThirtyK that blockchain will become a resource for many sectors, including the media. ”I do not see why this couldn’t be a possibility in the near future, ” said Peh, who is also an ethereum developer.

A number of blockchain projects are already showing some promise in the freelance and book publishing markets.

Civil is building a blockchain-based marketplace where journalists and readers can team to cover topics that interest them or are timely. Readers will purchase CVL tokens to support projects. The tokens can potentially increase in value as more people participate. The company has said that its technology can prevent censorship because of blockchain’s inherent transparency. Governments or other third parties can’t change information without drawing public notice.

Po.et is building a universal, blockchain-based licensing and payment platform. The platform will also allow journalists and other content providers to set up a profile displaying their work and to establish a direct channel to interested publishers based on metadata.

“Blockchain technology and the Po.et platform sanction a new network effect to not be ‘owned’ by a single entity but maintained by the collective owners of the content itself,” wrote Jarrod Dicker, the company’s CEO and a former Washington Post executive, in a blog.

Publica’s platform will use blockchain to create a universal, free system for authors to manage how their work is distributed, and how they’re compensated for it. Co-founder and CEO Josef Marc has likened book projects to startups.

Regardless of blockchain’s benefit to media, it’s important for journalists to follow at least one basic journalism practice, stresses Syncrasy Technologies’ Bell: “Understand the words you’re using. The words you use in your articles matter.”

James Rubin and Ross Snel contributed to this report.
Terry Wooten
Terry Wooten is a veteran business journalist. He served as an editor for nearly eight years for Dow Jones Newswires. Earlier in his career, he was a bureau chief for UPI. He has supervised coverage of the global commodities markets and covered a range of other topics.