Some journalists have turned to the cryptocurrency sector to help fund their work in recent years because it may be a difficult business to fund a media organisation. Late in the year of 2020, Kyle Chayka and Daisy Alioto co-founded an entertainment newsletter called Dirt. After launching earlier this week, Dirt announced intentions to incorporate its NFT coins into a decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO) that will allow its audience to influence where Dirt spends its money.
A blockchain-based media company isn’t the first of its kind. With its own cryptocurrency tokens, for example, the Civil initiative supported a slew of websites in 2017. Civil, on the other hand, came to an end following a rocky start and short-lived influx of funds. In the meanwhile, many cryptocurrency enthusiasts have constructed DAOs that allow token owners to vote like shareholders in a business, but many of these are chaotic experiments, like ConstitutionDAO, an attempt to purchase a copy of the US Constitution.
Kyle Chayka readily admits that DirtDAO is an experiment, but its primary objective is to allow a select group of people to vote on concepts for future Dirt longform pieces. Those who purchased one of its Ethereum-based NFTs prior to January 14th will be eligible to vote in the first round of the election. While Ethereum is a popular choice for NFT producers, it is currently more environmentally harmful than other options. Prior to the sale, I spoke with Chayka about the potential and limitations of using DAOs in journalism.
For the sake of readability, the interview has been edited and reduced.
According to the release, token holders of DirtDAO will be able to vote on stories and influence the editorial process. I’d like to know how widespread that is.
Daisy [Alioto] is working with authors we’ve already published in Dirt and are familiar with as a way to deal with the token voting. Afterwards, she’s pitching us a slew of stories that we know we’ll love. Right now, I’m not sure how many options we’re working on. Maybe five or six. The token holders will then be able to vote on those selections using ranked choice. Ultimately, all of these tales and writers are ones that we would be glad to work with. What do the token holders wish to prioritise as a result of this survey?
“Why not establish a crowdfunded, non-crypto system where backers may vote on coverage?”
The record-keeping aspect of blockchain technology is the most important benefit to me. So basically, by generating a token, we have a simple way to see who has backed us, like who has contributed to the funding of Dirt. Furthermore, the token holders may simply indicate their desire by voting because of the record they have.
If you don’t know who owns the tokens, how can you keep a firm from buying up all of your tokens and exerting influence over your editorial decision-making in this way?
To answer those questions, we’re doing an experiment. Nevertheless, Dirt is tiny enough and its token holders are small enough that we can essentially know who everyone is, at least by their wallet, even if they are completely anonymous. I think the point here is that we want to know who our token holders are at this stage, and we want to make sure that they’re committed and functioning in a morally correct manner. There are some things that blockchain can’t accomplish because of the lack of trust, but I don’t think our experiment is meant to demonstrate the utility of blockchain on a large scale or to claim that it can run an entire organisation. Users can express their desires for our magazine in this manner.
People often ask me if I refer to them by their real names or by their online aliases, and I’m not sure what you mean.
60% to 70% of the people that are genuinely engaging, we know their names and their online presences. We also have additional anonymous or pseudonymous token holders and NFT collectors. However, pseudonymous or completely anonymous participants don’t participate as frequently as they used to.
Approximately 100 people have tokens, according to the release.
Yes, I believe it’s now around 130. Only a small percentage of those people will actually cast ballots. There’s no way in hell I expect every token holder to cast a ballot.
Is there a limit to the number of people who can participate in the voting process?
What we’ve found is that only a small percentage of our viewers are interested in participating in the administration of our site, and we don’t expect any more than 1,000 individuals to actively vote. In other words, most individuals don’t want to be involved in governance in any capacity. They’re looking to get their fill of information.
In an extreme scenario, an assault claim that you don’t want made public outside of a tiny editorial process is an example of a pitch with sensitive material. On that subject, how do you propose that the DAO’s members vote?
Several factors contribute to our success. This is one of the reasons why our editorial process isn’t completely dominated by DAO-voted features. The DAO and token holders are sponsoring this aspect of the editing process, similar to a column or recurrent feature. There are some things in our work that don’t go through this process, and that’s okay.
This DAO structure and mechanism works for Dirt because we’re not doing investigative reporting, but that’s not the only reason. We provide online entertainment criticism, discussion, and aggregation. Cryptocurrency-powered publications, such as the one you mentioned, would not be my cup of tea if they were attempting to investigate sexual assault or more impactful political reporting, for example. Censorship-proof records of journalism on the blockchain were of particular interest to Civil.
As far as I’m concerned, what do you think?
Nothing of the sort is being discussed or proposed by us. Like, the newsletter itself operates on Substack like any other Substack. Our publication isn’t particularly blockchain-related.
What intrigues me more than the censor-proof text is the transparency of our funding and decision-making processes. If you wanted to know exactly how much money we’ve made, you could look at every single transaction that Dirt has received funds from. You’ll be able to check who has our NFTs and our tokens. Once voting in the DAO begins, you’ll be able to observe exactly how each vote is cast and who the voters are. So they’ll all be preserved in some fashion.
There is no indication of who owns the wallet or who is behind it when you say “who voted for what,” right?
Most of our token holders are proud to participate and want to show their support, therefore they’ve linked their wallet to their real name.
Please understand that I do not believe this use case is applicable in every instance. It works, in my opinion, because we are immersed in a digital world. We’re not known for our incisive reporting. In the end, it’s all about having a good time while figuring out the plot points.
There may be possibilities to employ this technology in investigative features or other similar areas of the media, in my opinion. There is something intriguing about the blockchain’s ability to keep track of transactions. In terms of censorship-proof writing, I don’t see it being applied anytime soon. Observing the governance votes and funding methods intrigues me. It’s more of a back-end for media production, and less about the content at this point.
What’s so special about Ethereum?
Ethereum is the most developed cryptocurrency in terms of practicality. When it comes to governance tools like Snapshot and OpenSea, which are both built on Ethereum, the majority of transactions take place on Ethereum. Published on Mirror, which employs Ethereum-backed technology. Dirt started there. As a result, the short answer is yes, Ethereum has the tools it needs.