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  • Aristotle Mannan

Bringing Citizen Journalism to Web3: A Spotlight on JournoDAO

Freedom of the Press was so highly valued by America’s Founding Fathers that it was

immortalized within the First Amendment to the Constitution. After a century of colonial rule, it was believed that the nation’s fledgling democracy would require open and accurate journalism to not only keep citizens informed, but also as a watchdog over government affairs. When the Nixon administration sought to block public access to the “Pentagon Papers” – documents that would show how the American public had been misled about the Vietnam War – the Court in New York Times Co. v. United States ruled that the government’s censorship of materials before publication was an unconstitutional “prior restraint” in violation of the First Amendment. In his opinion, Justice Hugo Black noted that “the press was to serve the governed, not the governors” and that journalists did “precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

Ultimately, the news is meant to function as a “public good” that is widely available and consumed for the benefit of all Americans. Since 2005, however, nearly a third of the nation’s newspapers have disappeared and left a swath of “news deserts” in their wake. The demise of local journalism, which affects an estimated 70 million Americans, has disproportionately impacted lower-income and marginalized communities that are unable to access credible news sources. Much of this phenomenon can be attributed to declining advertising revenues across newspapers – which have reduced by over 75% since 2010 – and the inability for smaller news outlets to sustainably operate. Concurrently, the internet has emerged as the primary channel for content distribution and now accounts for over 50% of advertising expenditures.

When the internet arrived in the early 1990s, it was introduced as a new medium to rapidly access and distribute information anywhere in the world. The earliest iteration, Web 1.0, largely aligned with this vision as the technology was protocol-oriented and the codebase was open-source. Although static websites restricted users to reading content, as few had the technical abilities to write their own content, Web 1.0 positioned itself as a public good. With the development of dynamic websites by the mid-2000s, where consumers now had read and write capabilities, the internet transitioned into the era of Web 2.0 – the version that we have come to know today – and was a catalyst for widespread adoption. In a matter of 30 years, the internet has grown 500-fold from a community of 10 million users in 1993 to over 5 billion users today. Unfortunately, the ascent of Web 2.0 has coincided with a departure from the ideals of creating a global network to transparently share information for the benefit of all users.

With increasing traffic in Web 2.0, business models have steadily shifted away from providing services crafted for user needs and towards processing user data to generate advertising revenue. In effect, users themselves have become the “products” that are sold to corporate marketing departments. Nearly half of the $700 billion digital advertising market belongs to Alphabet (via Google) and Meta (via Facebook), though many other companies have adopted similar models over the years. Moreover, Web 2.0 companies store vast amounts of information across centralized servers – thus giving them unbridled power to delete or modify content – and deploy proprietary, “closed-source,” software that match advertisements with user behavior.

Journalism in Web 2.0 has followed a similar trajectory, where the appeal of advertising revenue has incentivized the distribution of “clickbait” instead of curated content. This has resulted in an emphasis on the quantity of information over the quality and the prioritization of attention-grabbing headlines in lieu of the stories themselves. The profit potential has led to the rapid consolidation across the industry such that 25 companies (out of 2,600 total) now own one-third of all newspapers. Centralization of news outlets presents the potential to introduce polarizing biases and compromise the ability for Americans to distinguish the signal from noise. In fact, three-quarters of Americans believe that the inaccurate spread of information is among the internet’s greatest problems. Additionally, more than half of the surveyed population finds it difficult to be well-informed citizens in the current journalism climate.

The advent of Web 3.0, a decentralized internet where “smart contracts” execute transactions on a blockchain, promises to create a model whereby users can read, write and own their content. Whereas Web 2.0 necessitates the centralized storage of information, data existing on a blockchain is inherently replicated across nodes on a network. This allows for immutability, since transactions cannot be undone, and offers transparency to all network participants. Web 3.0 also enables the creation of leaderless entities, known as decentralized autonomous organizations (“DAOs”), that are directly governed by their members.

JournoDAO is on a mission to transition the news from existing “online” to “onchain” by integrating journalism with Web 3.0. Much like a blockchain, journalism is based on the core principles of decentralization, immutability, transparency and censorship resistance. Onchain journalism could entail the implementation of community DAOs that function as local newsrooms, but source content from citizen journalists that are closest to the stories. Empowering local journalism has the potential to revitalize news deserts and reestablish credibility among Americans that have been deprived of information. With enough DAO newsrooms, each functioning as respective nodes in a broader news network, JournoDAO could develop into a Web 3.0 wire service that syndicates news from a spectrum of inputs and facilitates peer-to-peer (“P2P”) distribution across subscribers. Along the way, contributors would retain ownership of the content that they create and directly receive remunerations for their stories.

Decentralization brings objectivity back to journalism as it devalues the news as a means to generate attention. By returning the control of content back to local journalists and their communities, there would be fewer opportunities for centralized entities to capitalize on advertising strategies that have become commonplace in Web 2.0. Unlike media conglomerates that can erase content from centralized servers, particularly during the consolidation of smaller entities, onchain news is immutable and exists in perpetuity. Furthermore, during a time when the public has heightened concerns about “fake news” as well as uncertainties about content created by artificial intelligence (“AI”), onchain reporting allows for the authentication of news sources and transparency on the flow of information.

Web 3.0 is still very much in its nascency, with approximately 400 million individuals – or less than 10% of the Web 2.0 market – owning digital wallets worldwide. From a developer standpoint, of the 27 million software engineers in the world, just 23,000 (less than 0.1%) are programming in Web 3.0. Recognizing that broader adoption of Web 3.0 will occur as the industry continues to mature, JournoDAO is currently focused on incubating projects related to decentralized newsrooms, onchain reporting, tokenized ownership and P2P distribution that will collectively build the foundation for journalism in Web 3.0. To facilitate development in this space, JournoDAO is integrating a stack of Web 3.0 tools for each layer of the news-reporting process and working to onboard citizen journalists.

Freedom of the Press is a fundamental right that is protected from government intrusion by the First Amendment and has consistently been reinforced by the Supreme Court. Paradoxically, the United States ranks 42nd globally (out of 180 nations) in press freedom due to the consolidation of news outlets into a handful of media companies, the proliferation of false information and the American public’s general loss of faith in journalism. JournoDAO envisions restoring news as a public good, realigning journalism with the intentions of the Founding Fathers and strengthening American democracy.

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