A conversation with Manoush Zomorodi, host of the podcast ZigZag, a crypto and blockchain explainer
As a podcaster, journalist, and generally curious person, Manoush Zomorodi has made a career out of examining the intersection of technology and human behavior. The former host and creator of WNYC’s Note to Self, a “tech show about being human,” Zomorodi decided to leave her job in June 2018, join forces with her producer Jen Poyant and launch ZigZag, a podcast documenting their journey of understanding crypto — and their decision to join Civil Media Company. Over 12 episodes in Season One, Zomorodi and her co-host Poyant “translate the head-scratching lingo, odd habits, and important basics of digital currencies,” sometimes with the help of a musician they call Blockchain Guitar Man. (Listen to the podcast through iTunes or the Google Play Store).
Civil is a new, decentralized journalism platform built on top of the Ethereum blockchain that has partnered with the Associated Press and Consensys and is supported by its own token, the CVL; the intention is that, as a token-curated registry, Civil will allow anyone to get involved with and support independent newsrooms.
At Coinbase, we believe an open financial system will become a reality as many more people get involved in the utility phase, and so we looked to hear Zomorodi’s thoughts on what made this journalist interested in participating in the experiment.
“I think there’s a real branding problem with the crypto world, which is that it’s all people who want to make money, fast. What a lot of people don’t know is that there’s also this very small, nascent sector of utility-based tokens, these token-curated registries, where it’s about trying to do something important and good for the world, not simply about the potential for financial gain.
That element is the only reason I wanted to learn about crypto economics in the first place. I wasn’t interested in this until there was a use case — until there was a reason to use it other than to speculate and make a lot of cash. I think that’s what this inflection point is all about. If crypto is going to go mainstream, it’s going to be through these kinds of projects like Civil that people care about.”
“About 20 newsrooms, including ours, have been given grants by Civil to be an initial class of journalism makers: Popula, Cannabis Wire, Sludge, to name a few. Anyone who wants to support Civil can register for the token sale, set up a cryptocurrency wallet, and buy tokens. And I think we’re all waiting to find out: Where does the CVL token fit in? Will it work?
Unlike, say, Kickstarter, or giving money to a traditional media outlet, Civil says their project is not just supporting an organization and leaving them to it. Holders of CVL tokens are able to vote and have their voice heard about how you think the platform should be governed. According to Civil, the system is set up to require that the people who support the concept also contribute to the actual making of the community.
The idea is that by combining blockchain with crypto-economics and a voting-and-governance system, you can start to create a new kind of community, or ecosystem. Let’s say there’s someone on there who’s always writing about this mattress company and how amazing it is. That’s not news. So the idea is that you can stake tokens to have this newsroom voted off of the Civil registry.
I hate to use the word “policing,” but after awhile there’s a quality-control element to using your tokens. The more time you spend on the platform — maybe making sure quality is good, or commenting — you get rewarded. There are going to be — and I’ve only seen prototypes of this — but ways where if you want to start your own newsroom, you have to stake a certain number of tokens to have your own website included in the Civil ecosystem.
It’s really a social experiment. Civil says it’s built in a bunch of protective measures. There’s something called the Civil Council that’s headed up by Vivian Schiller, the former CEO of NPR. It includes a lot of smart, experienced people who are there to provide some human, ethical standards, if everything starts to spin out of control.”
“This kind of project is why I got into journalism originally — I used to be a breaking news reporter. Despite not being on the daily news grind anymore, the stakes are quite fascinating to me. And I think we’re all waiting to find out: Will it work? Is it going to create a ecosystem where we all help each other find content, where there’s a thriving, healthy, fertile online place for journalism? Where, thanks to the blockchain, the soil remains rich? There’s definitely a utopian quality to the crypto community, where people are like, “the blockchain will solve it!” I go back and forth on that. But you have to have that utopian belief or else you wouldn’t put in the hard work.
None of us journalists at Civil are blockchain people. We’re the humanists. We’re witnessing the dawn of a new technology. I think a lot of us didn’t get to do this the first time around, with the Internet. So for me it was like: Cool, a do-over!
And I’m right there, with a front row seat. I get to call out to the people on the stage and ask them questions and they have to stop and tell me what they’re doing. I’m not sitting back. That’s so exciting to me.”