As a freelance journalist who covers cryptocurrencies and blockchain, I’m often dismayed by the quality of information provided by crypto news sites. With some exceptions, writers rarely fact check what they publish, many articles are thinly veiled press releases, and an advertising-based business model rewards those who publish first.
Beyond that, an alarming number of crypto publications have been found willing to bend normal journalistic ethical standards. Breaker Magazine (itself a crypto news site) did an investigation in October into whether they could get other crypto publications to agree to publish paid advertising, or “sponsored articles,” as regular news content. Of the 22 crypto publications Breaker contacted and received answers from, 12 agreed to publish such content without disclosing the fact it was paid for.
In fact, many crypto publications are themselves owned by companies who also have financial stakes in various blockchain startups and coins. Since those publications have a vested interest in the success of their projects, their work can be biased, even if it is not intended to deceive. While there is nothing new about this, as media owners have long used their outlets to promote their other business interests, crypto/blockchain appears to be particularly prone to this kind of bias. In some respects, crypto shares many similarities with penny stock markets and other investment schemes, which are notorious for information and market manipulation.
It’s pretty clear that crypto, in particular the ICO boom of the last two years, has attracted a sizeable number of dishonest players who are looking to make a quick buck above all else. It’s part of what’s kept me so busy as a journalist. The multiple arrests and investor losses related to crypto investment schemes attest to that. This has given the entire crypto/blockchain space a not entirely undeserved reputation as being disreputable.
As a freelance journalist, I hold myself to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which requires any conflict of interest–financial or otherwise–to be disclosed. The rule is stated by the SPJ like this:
The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.
Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
As a result, I don’t hold any cryptocurrencies. I did hold some bitcoin and ether in early 2018, but I sold off my crypto holdings after I began writing about crypto/blockchain as a paid journalist earlier this year. One of the websites that I write for, Bitsonline, requires writers who own more than $500 USD worth of cryptocurrency to disclose their holdings. I hold none, because I want to be completely independent and fair-minded in my coverage.
As a journalist, I haven’t pulled any punches when it comes to crypto. I wrote up the debate between the economist and crypto-skeptic Nouriel Roubini and ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin. I covered the revelations about Bitfinex and related firm Tether in multiple pieces. I also did several articles critical of ICOs, such as the Swarm token sale and Metronome ICO.
Crypto Has Some Good Actors
That said, there are media outlets and companies in the blockchain/crypto space that appear to be acting in good faith. However, promoters of the technology, who claim it has applications in fields as varied as finance, digital identity, supply chain, digital rights management, and online advertising, still have to prove that their vision will come to fruition. Despite more and more established companies making investments, that has yet to be demonstrated. As of late 2018 it’s still an open question of how the technology will play out in the years to come.
Advice for Reading Crypto Media
Some advice to those who are interested in crypto and reading industry publications regularly. First, check what sources a given article is based on. Look to see if the original material — document, government filing, press release, other news article, or tweet — is linked to and accessible.
Also, take the time to do some research on who owns the news outlets you read. Many — perhaps most — crypto news sites have financial interests in blockchain projects or coins, but the ethical ones will disclose them. Lastly, be wary of articles, blogs, or videos that promote a certain coin or have an overly bullish take on crypto generally.
And if you’re investing in crypto, keep in mind there’s a difference between blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. While both are overhyped, it’s possible that blockchain could be become widely adopted by multiple industries but bitcoin, ethereum and other coins become worthless. Cryptocurrencies as investments are many times more risky than even the most speculative publicly traded technology stocks. Do your own research before investing and take everything you read with a heavy dose of skepticism.
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