David Moore is having fun. The former director of the Participatory Politics Foundation, a nonprofit open-government group that operated OpenCongress.org — a site that tracked the revolving door between Congress and lobbying and became a leading resource for government transparency — is now part of a project with an ambitious goal: finding a way to save journalism.
Journalism is an industry under siege. There are, in fact, two simultaneous existential crises facing journalism: dwindling public confidence and support for media in the face of the rise in fake news and clickbait, and collapsing advertising models that supported journalism in the past. It is a pincer movement that has balkanized audiences and gutted funding.
In November 2017, two New York–based sites specializing in local reportage, Gothamist (which also had outlets in other cities) and DNAinfo, were abruptly shut down by their owner, Joe Ricketts, a Trump-supporting billionaire, after their staff voted to unionize.
Just weeks later, The Awl and The Hairpin, an esoteric pair of sites beloved as showcases for young writers, announced they were shuttering amid collapsing advertising revenue. A year earlier, Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel was revealed to have been the secret financial backer of a devastating lawsuit that destroyed the groundbreaking gossip blog Gawker. President Trump has declared outright war on the news media, which he describes as the “enemy of the American people”; according to polling, a third of Americans agree with him.
“The loss of Gothamist and DNAinfo was keenly felt,” says Moore, who lives in Brooklyn. “It prompted a sense of urgency in New York that this leading work needs wider support and strategies for sustainability.”
Moore believes he may have found an answer — or at least, a group of people with a good shot at finding one — to both of these problems. As it turns out, the solution to both crises facing journalism may come from the same technological root: blockchain, the technology that distributes data across a network of participating nodes using cryptographic proof and removes the necessity for information to be controlled by a central authority. It is the technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, and it may represent a unique opportunity for an industry in crisis.