I Bought 71 Civil Tokens, but Had to Work for Them

Like other journalists hoping for a stabilizing force to save our profession from its economic tailspin, I have been following (and documenting) the launch of Brooklyn’s Civil, the journalism company built on blockchain. Today its token, CVL, went on sale.

Civil has done a better job telling its own story than almost any startup in the blockchain space—as one would expect from a media company—via its blog on Medium and the erudite yet conversational weekly newsletters from its head of marketing, Matt Coolidge. There’s also an 8,000-plus strong Telegram group where the company addresses questions on an ongoing basis.

This transparency has helped it it remain, reputationally, above the fray of other (often scammy) token sales or ICOs. So has an intense, month-long effort to educate potential token buyers about how to buy tokens and what they can be used for, via multiple daily webinars.

Civil has distinguished itself by attracting a string of impressive, household-name journalists who were fed up with traditional media organizations. It hired industry heavy hitter Vivian Schiller, former president and CEO of NPR and chief digital officer at NBC News, to run the Civil Foundation, the nonprofit  overseeing newsrooms and the sole beneficiary of the token sale. And it’s backed by $5 million from ConsenSys (an investment which, if nothing else, was a savvy PR move given how much journalists like to gab about media companies).

The question that still dogs me, and even some of Civil’s own journalists, is: Will people pay for it? Readers are accustomed to getting their news and information for free, much to the detriment of news organizations, not to mention civic discourse. Adding the extra step of purchasing cryptocurrency could surely be a deterrent. If you can’t get someone to plunk down a credit card to subscribe to their local metro, is there any hope for getting people to also sign up for Coinbase, install MetaMask, and convert dollars to ether and ether to CVL?

I am a crypto newb. I own no bitcoin. I wanted to see firsthand what sort of hoop-jumping the Civil token sale might require for non crypto-fluent news junkies.

In July, I signed up for a Coinbase account and bought $50 of ether using my credit card. I also went to Token Foundry to register for the CVL sale. There was a quiz to prove my knowledge of cryptocurrency, which I passed with the help of some light Googling. However, I stopped short of completing the registration when asked to submit an image of my passport AND a selfie shot with my built-in computer camera. Already, the security and privacy stakes seemed too high, and there were three additional steps that could have been eliminated just by using a credit card. One required homework.

Yesterday, in preparation for the sale, I logged back into Token Foundry and resigned myself to submitting my passport photo and selfie. Then I went to check my Coinbase account. The value of my ETH had dropped from $50 to the mid-$20s, so I bought more.

Now it was time to install MetaMask, which is used to transfer ether via a web plugin. To create an account, MetaMask asks me to copy down a random string of 12 words. This is my so-called “secret backup.” It includes the turn of phrase “tragic random bargain,” which sounds more like the title of my midlife crisis than something I’d use to log into a bank account, but OK. You probably can’t steal my ether using those three words, though I can’t be sure. Then I spent some time futzing around trying to transfer ether from Coinbase to MetaMask, which took seven tries, for a variety of annoying reasons not worth getting into.

One hour and forty-three minutes later, success! I am now the proud owner of 71 Civil tokens. 

Civil has set its “soft cap,” the amount it must raise for the sale to go through, at $8 millionAs of 3:18 p.m. on day one of the sale, Civil tokens had raised $72,292.00, according to Token Foundry. Civil told BREAKER that it expects to have several large investors who commit substantial financing in order to stake multiple newsrooms, to the tune of six figures, and those commitments are not yet factored in. It has until Oct. 15 to hit the soft cap. 

Matthew Iles, the CEO of Civil, said the company spent much of the first day of the sale helping people figure out how to complete token purchases; many buyers were, like me, new to this stuff.

“We remain very confident about our ability to have a successful sale,” Iles said. “Many people are doing this for the first time, and we love that.”

I’m rooting for Civil. I want Civil, or something like it, to offer journalists a profitable alternative to ad-supported publishing, and readers a trustworthy news source that can’t be wiped out on the whims of a billionaire. I want the future of journalism to be saved.

It just won’t get saved today.