Erika Alexander is using the blockchain to make journalism more inclusive

Erika Alexander is using the blockchain to make journalism more inclusive

Civil, the blockchain-based journalism platform, is adding a new site to its mix. Called The Blackness, the endeavor was built in conjunction with Color Farm Media, a media company and venture studio that launched last year with the aim of developing and producing content that brings greater diversity to the media landscape.

The Blackness aims to do just that, publishing long-form multimedia stories that focus on underrepresented communities of color—stories of marginalized groups, what they’re doing, and what’s been done to them. “It’s like a Vice, but for those communities,” explains Color Farm cofounder Erika Alexander, an actress and writer known for her roles in movies such as Get Out and shows such as Living Single. The idea behind the publication, she adds, “was to talk about the things that just disappear.”

Alexander and her Color Farm cofounder Ben Arnon, a media technologist and entrepreneur, are in the process of forging partnerships with a number of journalistic organizations that can help produce content for The Blackness, including groups like the National Association for Black Journalists, along with several historically black colleges and universities. “We’re looking to have a distributed network of journalists,” says Arnon.

By working with these groups, and sourcing talent from organizations that seek out marginalized voices, the two hope to build a media company that tells new and engaging multimedia stories.

Ben Arnon and Erika Alexander [Photo: courtesy of Color Farm]

Why blockchain?

When it was first devised, it wasn’t clear at first what form The Blackness would take. One early idea, says Arnon, was to launch a podcast. Then the two founders thought about perhaps launching a video journalism venture. But other Color Farm projects took precedence for a time.

Then, earlier this year, Arnon began talking with Civil about working together, and they decided that The Blackness would live on Civil’s newly launched blockchain-based platform. While Civil sites look like normal web pages, their back-end architecture is such that they are produced using ledger technology that records every change, protecting the story archive from any external interference.

This is partly what interested the two founders in the technology. According to Arnon, he has long been interested in blockchain technology, and was instantly attracted to Civil’s project. “A decentralized platform for journalism makes sense,” he tells me.

Not only that but Civil’s community-driven governance model seemed like a perfect use case for the organizations that Color Farm was hoping to cultivate. The platform plans to launch ethereum-based tokens between September 18 and October 2. These coins will be used as a form of governance, creating an economic system of incentives for the community of token-holders. Holding a Civil token is essentially like holding stock in the entire journalism ecosystem. It gives people voting rights, which are used when questions about the future of the platform come up.

Similarly, if someone alleges that a newsroom went against Civil’s constitution, token holders will be asked to vote on the issue. Users can also use coins to launch their own newsrooms. Essentially, Civil hopes to create a community where the users have a vested interest in its livelihood. Already, a slew of Civil-based news sites have begun popping up. They include Popula, a globally focused site of cultural essays; Sludge, an investigative journalism outlet; and Hmm Daily, a yet-to-be-launched site from Gawker and Awl alums.

Both Alexander and Arnon will be token holders when the coins go live. Civil cofounder Matt Coolidge tells me over email they will also be focused on “recruiting diversity-minded media organizations to join the network.” Arnon tells me in a follow-up email that he sees this role as recruiter and token holder “as crucial to the long-term success of our partnership with Civil.”

For right now, Color Farm is just announcing the newsroom, and figuring out how to build it up down the line. What’s next, says Alexander, is ramping up the site: “We’re going to need a lot of help,” she tells me. Arnon sees the site as having a “similar structure to grassroots community organizing.” Stories and journalists will be distributed and happen at a local level, which will then move up the newsroom’s chain to ultimately make it on the site. He adds that there will be “quality control layers,” which I assume means editors.

Both the founders are hopeful that Civil, and the new technology it’s built upon, will help propel The Blackness in its mission to create a thriving space for marginalized voices in media. In the process, it may just form a template for more equitable journalism. Alexander adds, “I think it’s sexy, too.”