How the blockchain could help build a decentralized media economy

Jarrod Dicker, CEO of, explained how blockchain tech could revolutionize the news industry, help eliminate fake news, and enhance trust in social media.

Jarrod Dicker, CEO of, talked with Dan Patterson about how his company uses the blockchain to document media assets.

Watch the video, or read the full transcript of their conversation below:

Patterson: The decentralized media economy is here. What the heck is a decentralized media economy? Well, surprise, surprise, it runs on the blockchain. ... You have worked at The Washington Post, as well as RebelMouse and other media companies. First, why a startup? Why a blockchain startup? And, why

Dicker: Three of the most frequent questions I get. So why a startup? I think my past three years at The Washington Post have been somewhat startup in a legacy media news organization, and the fact that we were run by Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post. It was an amazing time for news, right, and all news media.

There was a lot of momentum and excitement behind all the work that we were doing. Especially when we took it to the tech side. And one thing that I've always focused on throughout my career was how do we build a better model for the business of media, which is what I found extremely hard to do. It's also extremely hard to do within just one media company.

So over the past few years, I've been building something at The Washington Post called RED, Research Experimentation Development, where we were building new technologies and systems to use on the Post, off the Post, licensed white label to really help build a better media economy. Then I started really understanding not just the technologies behind blockchain, but the philosophies behind them.

The idea of consensus and decentralization. Coincidentally, approached me in terms of going there, becoming the chief executive officer, and building the team. We could get into how that all went down, but that's how I ended up here now.

Patterson: So the blockchain, this is possibly one of the most hyped technologies in recent memory. But it really is useful when you have to stamp a piece of asset, whatever that asset is. No matter whether it's gold and diamonds, or housing and real estate, or in this case, content. So a lot of us in media on the backend, we have content management systems and you can see a log of activity that is not necessarily for the public, but you can see what happens to a particular asset over time.

Why is a blockchain good for public pieces of media? And when I say assets, in this case we're referring to a post, or a video, or an audio podcast. Why is the blockchain so good at documenting those types of assets?

Dicker: Yeah, I think for one, a quick answer is the idea of immutability, right. The idea that something could be permanent and stored there. Mainly for attribution, being able to check to see who the owner of an idea is, whose authorship of a certain idea, and just make sure that that cannot be manipulated. I think that that's extremely important, but scary for a lot of media companies.

I've had a couple conversations where folks in media have said, "Well, that's terrifying because what if I need to redact a statement?" Right, or what if I need to take something down for advertisements? And where I think we'll see the value of blockchain in media is also like philosophically how we change the way that we think and build content and creative ideas in the media landscape. What I mean by that is right now, we are used to a web, where we can delete, where we can change, and where we can alter.

And what's really happened there is that people throw ideas out there, knowing that if they are wrong, they could change or delete, or things are not immutable, right, per se, which is what's happening on the blockchain. What I really hope beyond just the products of what it can do, is really that it'll change the way that we do things, right. Like in society today, there are consequences for things that you do. You can't just press the delete button or change, right. So you think about these sort of things before you actually act on them.

And I think what we've seen in the media landscape is that people are very quick to send ideas or shoot ideas out there, knowing that they can hide behind something, or knowing that they could change something. And what does it really mean when you need to kind of account for those ideas, and when they are living on a blockchain forever? So one of which, when it comes to media on the blockchain, I think is this idea of security, immutability.

SEE: What is blockchain? Understanding the technology and the revolution (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

This new notion that you are now in control of your ideas and of your assets, both in a public and private, public key, private key manner. And being able to take control of that, right. We at, really want to focus more on the long tail creators, like we are accessible for everyone. We aim to be a library of the world's creative assets on the blockchain and are building different ways for access and people to do so. Whether that's through, as you mentioned, a content management system, or going directly to, or within your own domains.

But once you do that, what can you actually do on the domain? And I think there's two major things. One is really being able to own and manage your ideas. So how do you issue a content license? What should that cost? How can you make sure that your ideas are being heard and transacted on? An example that I give often and we see it every single day on Twitter, is that if you put something up on Twitter, which is a piece of media that can go viral beyond just the at replies, there's also Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed, and others saying, "Hey, Dan. I love this. Do you mind if I use this?"

And at that moment, you really have already put it on Twitter and you just assume, "Sure, right. It's already out there." Well, what if you had the opportunity to say, "Oh, there's clearly value in this content I'm creating. Sure, here's my private key with the smart contract and rules that you need to abide by if you want to license and leverage this content."

So that is one thing that I think is extremely important that we'll learn both in terms of changing a behavior about applications of using blockchain for media. The other is this idea of transparency, as you mentioned, and reputation, right. In everything that we do in life, reputation matters. Like if you go to a hotel, you're going to look at the ratings. If you ride in an Uber, you look at ratings. Every single thing is based on that transparency and reputation. Even if you're going to eat something, right.

Truth could be subjective, information could be subjective. Like the same way that you would look at maybe the back of a carton of milk and say, "Okay, there's a lot of fat, but I'm cool with it." Or, you may say, "No, like I don't want all that fat." But when it comes to information and transparency, that doesn't really exist. So I think this idea of building reputation for creators, not just to say, "That this creator tells the truth and this creator doesn't tell the truth." But just give transparency as to the way that they navigate it-

Patterson: Yeah, ownership and the attribution-

Dicker: Exactly.

Patterson: Yeah.

Dicker: Exactly, and be able to see, has it been fact checked? Right, who has seen it? Has this person published before? They've taken this picture in Sri Lanka, are they actually in Sri Lanka? Right, or are they in New Jersey? So I think that sort of information really is applicable, especially nowadays, when it comes to deep fakes and people putting information out there, to really just get more exposure and transparency to the end consumer, so that they can make decisions on their own based on what they're consuming.

Patterson: Yeah, so the obvious use cases could be say, iStock photo and allowing creators to control the assets that are there. But also social media, as well as news content, or almost any piece of content where an exchange of trust has to happen. And really what you're talking about with transparency, is the exchange of trust equity. And being able to say, "This is the process by which a particular asset exists in an ecosystem, and you can vet and verify it using the blockchain." So you use the Ethereum blockchain.

Dicker: We use the ERC-20.

Patterson: Yeah, so explain to me how that applies to, not just in terms of content, but you are building a content library. Why did you elect to use Ethereum? What are some of the advantages of that? And, is this the next emerging hot blockchain?

Dicker: So I want to back up and just make it clear. We stamp on the Bitcoin blockchain because it's the most secure blockchain. We leverage Ethereum for ERC-20 tokens because is a token dynamic-type model. In that, to build reputation, we need to build incentive systems, and that's why the token exists to help fuel and challenge the marketplace in order to get the best content up and the worst content down.

I think with Ethereum, the most interesting thing that's happening is that they are opening up with these ERC-20 tokens and beyond, the opportunity for people to build their technologies on top of it. And that's where you've kind of seen a huge movement towards that blockchain and the opportunities of that blockchain. There's also companies like ConsenSys out in Bushwick, that are building right on top of this, companies for every single pocket of the industry that could leverage blockchain for proof, right, of value and really what it could really become.

That is definitely happening to answer your question. Like that trend is moving and there's a lot of accessibility there. Now that being said, we're way off, right, from building scalable blockchain solutions when it comes to enterprise and conversations that we would have had three years ago when I was at The Washington Post in talking about technologies built there. So that is somewhat exciting because I don't believe that we are dead set on one blockchain for anything.

SEE: Blockchain: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)'s ambitions and the partnerships that we have and others that are building on top of the work that we're doing, are kind of opening up the same opportunity. Look, is build a protocol that is helping build reputation on the web. And if you want to help leverage that, to help build reputation within your applications, then you should build on There's a company called Encrypt that's building on top of, which is really looking to circumvent censorship when it comes to information delivery.

So if you are posting an article or have a website, and you are concerned that your IP could be blocked, how can you leverage Encrypt to make sure that that information is then spread out in a bunch of different devices and not just one central server? To then be able to come back and have that information delivered, and that's something that's being built on top of There's other conversations of people in media that are looking for certain solutions that want to build on top of what we're doing, as well.

So we leverage Bitcoin blockchain just because it's an easy marketing example to say, "Look. If you value your money and you trust Bitcoin blockchain because money is the most important thing to you at this moment, well, your ideas are equally important, right? And if your ideas are important, you want them to be as secure as your money." But there are opportunities for us to port to either. There's opportunities for us to mimic or build our own.

I think it's still early days, but the biggest thing that we're looking to do now is influence a space that could benefit from new thinking, right, the business of media really trying to figure out how to strengthen media companies, how to allow them to evolve, how can get we give power back to creators, right?

How do we give velocity to independent thought and a platform, where people could drive revenue and earn what they should earn, based off their ideas? An analogy ... Or, sorry. I hate sports analogies, but an analogy-

Patterson: I love sports analogies-

Dicker: And hopefully, the audience does, as well. But the way that free agency works in sports, right, does not really exist when it comes to media or content. So each writer is somewhat valued the same. I mean, we look at certain nuances like Twitter followers, or tenure, right, or work that they've completed.

But in sports, you have this opportunity where every single quarterback is rated, right, in front of the public based on their skillset, based on their salaries, based on all these different set of criteria.

In media, that really doesn't exist, right. So what if we can build these sort of valuations and services to set up, so that we can actually pinpoint the value of content and the value of media that everyone is creating, which personally, I believe is extremely undervalued right now.

And I'm sure you agree, as well, and anyone who works in this space constantly is telling people that, "Content cost money. Content is valuable. It costs a lot to create great content. If you want good content, you need to pay for it."

But I think what we need to do is start proving these things, and in order to prove these things, we need to set up dynamics and platforms in order to do so, and that's kind of what we're doing here.

Also see:

LuckyStep48, Getty Images/iStockphoto

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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