‘Economic value is a measure of the benefit provided by a good or service to an economic agent. It is generally measured relative to units of currency, and the interpretation is therefore “what is the maximum amount of money a specific actor is willing and able to pay for the good or service”?’ — Value (economics), Wikipedia
The final episode of Games of Thrones hooked in 19.3 million viewers, not just a series record but an HBO network record, too.
Now guess: How many people watched the first night of the Democratic debates? How about the second night? Have you made your guesses yet?
The answer is 15.5 million and 18.1 million people, respectively.
That’s how much people value civic engagement and journalism.
We live in a democracy where candidates run for elected office to represent our interests, and that process won’t function properly if candidates can’t get the word out about their vision, strategies, policies, and passions, and if the people can’t respond with honest feedback and tough questions. That medium of exchange is journalism. News organization made those debates happen. They provided the fact-checking, and they analyzed the candidate responses to help the public make sense of it all.
So an important question we must ask ourselves is this: How much do we value journalism? The example above suggests the answer is ‘a lot’, so then why is it disappearing from our lives at such an alarming rate?
These questions and the pursuit of solutions have been the driving force behind Civil since the day we were born.
First Trust, Now Revenue.
The mission of Civil is to become the world’s most trustworthy media platform, and in the process, advance sustainability for independent journalism worldwide. We believe a decentralized media platform built on trust, transparency, privacy, and fairness will tip the balance of power (and profits) back to newsrooms and the public they serve.
In March, we launched the world’s first community-run governance system for news. Our roster of newsrooms and members of the public continues to grow. And our unique governance system is working.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the world’s first peer-to-peer crowdfunding product for journalists. (And we’re only just getting started.)
Civil Boosts enable newsrooms to raise money for projects large and small quickly and easily. Maybe it’s for a new piece of reporting equipment, launching a new investigation, or even sending a reporter to an event to provide on-the-ground reporting.
Newsrooms on the Civil Registry rely on a variety of revenue streams to support the fantastic work they are doing. It is important that these financial models are such that they allow for editorial independence and sustainability.
The business model of journalism today is best understood in the context of online content creators in general. Media businesses invest in attracting audiences that they then monetize either directly such as with memberships, subscriptions, paywalls, and donations, or indirectly, such as with licensing, sponsorships and advertising. Like any business (for-profit or not), they seek a reasonable return on their investment in order to achieve sustainability.
To maximize profits, media companies might look to keep costs down on content production while generating the most revenue possible per piece of content, series or franchise. Clickbait, listicles, slideshows and SEO farms are examples of low-cost models, while the New York Times, Gimlet Media, Colorado Sun and Tortoise are examples of higher-cost models.
The former is predicated on cheaply reaching tons of eyeballs typically through reverse-engineering the media platforms’ powerful search and discovery algorithms in order to monetize via ads. The latter — though supplement revenue from opportunities presented by the former model, too — focus on building a loyal base of (paying) members and sometimes growing further through more targeted, typically one-off sponsorships.
Journalism by definition requires a higher-cost model than most online media. Investigations can run for years, news teams need to respond to breaking news 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and legal fees or other operational costs are typically higher than other content businesses.
In sum, we need to help journalists make more money in a more cost-efficient manner. Or else it just doesn’t work.
That is why Civil has built Boosts. It’s the first application in what will become a growing and connected suite of tools to help news organizations cultivate loyal memberships, augment with ethical sponsorships, and ultimately achieve long-term sustainability.
Gleaned from hours of interviews with journalists and news-seekers alike, we designed Boosts based on the following insights:
- People actually prefer to pay news organizations for specific, one-off initiatives. While many people pay monthly fees to their favorite news organizations, they tend to support only a very limited number of newsrooms overall this way. Yet one-off payments are attractive because of the direct connection between money and its impact.
- Boosts allow newsrooms to highlight the true investment necessary to make quality independent journalism possible, something we found resonates deeply with many news-seekers. In fact, our research shows, while virtually no one ever pays more than the standard fee for monthly access, many people, it turns out, are willing to spend significantly more than expected to support specific causes they care deeply about seeing covered in the press.
- Newsrooms now more than ever rely on audience engagement and membership revenue, and yet these two strategies are often not tightly linked when we believe they ought to be one and the same. Boosts give newsrooms space to share new ideas, open up about their toughest challenges, and generally engage the public in the editorial process more intimately while providing members a direct route to supporting the work of a newsroom financially.
Newsrooms can launch as many Boosts as they want at a time, keep the funds even if they don’t reach their target, and pay nothing but credit card fees (even these can be removed if members choose to contribute in cryptocurrency). Only approved newsrooms on the Civil Registry may launch Boosts. That is to ensure that public money is only going to trustworthy organizations.
Today, Creative Next and Arepita become the first newsrooms to launch Boosts. In early August, any Civil newsroom can do the same, and soon after, newsrooms will be able to embed Boosts directly on their own websites.
As much as we enjoy escaping to Westeros, at the end of the day, we live in the real world. It’s what makes journalism so essential and durable: a free society’s demand to know what’s happening will never cease. Of course, we value journalism as a society. The question is whether we can fund it sustainably while also maintaining public trust.