Readers expect their news to be dependable and trustworthy, but many are skeptical. Unchecked sources, rushing to print, sloppy reporting, and news sites intentionally misleading readers are all cited by readers as contributing to their loss of faith in published content. Readers, on the other hand, seek out — and often pay for — reputable, factual, impartial news. More transparency in the reporting and writing process will increase confidence, and the solution for news sites will come from an unexpected source: blockchain technology.
Today’s state of publishing trust We recently published a report titled “Trust in Digital Publishing,” which investigated how readers now feel about the news sites they follow, the stories they view, and how trustworthy they believe the sites are. We discovered that 61 percent of those polled want their favorite news sites to do a better job of fact-checking and focusing on accuracy. They feel that news sites disseminate false information as a result of incompetent journalists or unethical methods, and that news companies do not have their viewers’ best interests at heart. Meanwhile, 42% of people have stopped reading a news site they used to read, and 51% have abandoned news sites because of one erroneous story.
Readers, on the other hand, are looking for accurate information: According to the research, 46% of respondents are willing to pay for factual news. Better fact-checking, a focus on accuracy over speed, more transparency over the editorial process, and admitting when a news outlet makes a mistake, according to them, can all assist to build confidence. When it comes to editorial transparency, some news organizations have started “showing their work,” such as when Washington Post journalist David Fahrenthold shared photos of his research notes with his Twitter followers. Readers may see how articles were researched and put together through this method.
However, I believe that businesses may take it a step further and leverage blockchain timestamping to boost reader trust.
How might blockchain help to build trust? Bitcoin was not the first application of blockchain technology. It was first published in a 1991 whitepaper by scholars Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta titled “How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document.” They anticipated the issues of document authorship and authenticity that would develop in a digital age. In The Wall Street Journal, Amy Whitaker writes, “They pondered how we might know for sure what was accurate about the past.” “How might tampering with the historical record be prevented, and how could such information be safeguarded for future generations?” The approach proposed by Haber and Stornetta is to timestamp the data.
Rather than sending documents and data to a timestamping server for safe keeping — where they may be tampered with — Haber and Stornetta proposed timestamping data with a unique identifier, or hash, that would be attached to the material. The unique hash would then be transferred to a server, where it would be maintained — similar to an “old school copyright” — and attached to a specific version of the document or data, all of which would be kept on a decentralized, public ledger. That’s how the blockchain works, and it all started with a recognition of the necessity to secure content accuracy.
The same use cases outlined by Haber and Stornetta can be implemented today: timestamping inventions or ideas to establish who invented the first or timestamping corporation papers to prove to tamper. However, the most common application today is on the internet, which is where the majority of us acquire the majority of our information.
Timestamping can be used to establish authorship, reveal illicit content changes, and increase the transparency and trustworthiness of the material being read. A news source would timestamp a piece of material with a unique hash, which would then be put to a public blockchain for everyone to see. That one-of-a-kind hash —The title, the date, and the text itself would all input to that specific piece of material. The hash cannot be changed after it is added to the blockchain. If the contents of the item are updated or altered, a new hash with a different timestamp must be constructed. In essence, for each piece of material produced by a news company, an individual fingerprint is formed, establishing the integrity in an open-source manner.
It also prevents intermediaries from “stamping their approval” on content, removing a potentially corrupting or changing third party (a solution some news organizations are proposing today and exactly what Haber and Stornetta wanted to avoid). According to a Wired article, we pay a lot of money to third-party intermediaries for a variety of services, many of which blockchain technology can replace. “It will be like the internet in a decade or so: we will wonder how society ever functioned without it,” they say. The internet changed how we communicated and shared information; the blockchain will change how we exchange value and who we trust.”
Timestamping can boost reader confidence by ensuring that they’re reading an original article or news piece. Readers will come to trust news organizations who employ timestamping and distrust those that don’t once it is widely adopted.
Tomorrow’s timestamping Reader loyalty isn’t assured any longer. Readers are increasingly migrating to news sites that deliver factual, objective, and reliable information. They want more transparency in the writing, research, and editing processes as well. Timestamping is one approach to ensure that readers know when the content was published and that they’re reading the original version of the tale rather than a rewritten version. Increased confidence leads to greater loyalty, which in turn leads to more readers and paying subscribers.