Start Us Up Now: America’s New Business Plan is an initiative of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based philanthropy that works in the fields of education and entrepreneurship. Kauffman and Alley worked together to rapidly design and launch a site to disseminate the particulars of the policy plan, support a targeted communications campaign in several states, and garner support from organizations who can join the Start Us Up Now coalition through the site.
Since April, our team at Alley has been working hard in tandem with the team at Civil to deliver an awesome publishing platform to its first fleet newsrooms. We're hoping what we've built will boost many more new businesses than the dozen or so we've pushed to market so far. At Alley, we're all about pushing the boundaries of journalism business models, so we were psyched to get a chance to participate in a bold experiment like Civil.
What excites us about Civil isn't the token or the blockchain technology so much as the ability to offer an instant economy of scale to journalism startups. We've struggled for years to deliver value to emerging media businesses because the market is so tough for new ideas. You can't get into programmatic ad networks, can't usually sell direct ads, and must compete with the entire internet for audience attention to even have a shot at converting readers to subscribers. You can hire a team like ours to build for scale and then hope you get there, or you can launch — where? On Medium? Or you could pop up a quick WordPress blog, but how would you monetize? Civil's platform answers all of this in a way that can work for newsrooms that are as different as chalk and cheese.
So why have a token and not just a technology platform? First, engaging with the cryptocurrency community brings a fresh perspective and a dose of optimism to journalism innovation. Second, it enables an interesting antidote to misinformation — but only if it gains scale within existing publishers. What if Donald Trump's USA Today editorial had been published to Civil and could be challenged factually? Sure, it'd change nothing about Donald Trump, but it'd change everything about the sort of news outlet he could use to amplify his dissembling messages.
Optimism can be hard to hear if your business is to console the damned.
But the token doesn't need to be massively valuable for Civil to succeed. There are no Brocks at Civil. This isn't a get-rich-quick scheme, it's an optimistic idea for journalism that everybody involved acknowledges might not work. The monetization stack that ships with the Civil platform only accepts plain old dollars! Still, optimism can be hard to hear if your business is to console the damned. And cryptocurrency has a well-deserved reputation for fueling rampant speculation.
It seems to me that in these times an abiding love of free speech requires either optimism or masochism, and for my part, I'm an optimist. It feels great to move fast, and it's refreshing to learn new things about launching audience-supported journalism products. Civil could die tomorrow and its lessons would be invaluable to anyone thinking of doing something bold and different on the path to building a sustainable news business.