BGTW - Civil Registry Discussion

Hi BGTW. You have successfully submitted your application to join the Civil Registry. Over the next 10 days, members of the Civil community may reach out to you with questions regarding your editorial policy, privacy policy, and business model. Newsrooms will get an email alert every time there is a comment relating to their Civil Registry Profile. Please make sure to check this discussion forum regularly to respond to community comments.

(Cross-posting from previous discussion forum, for posterity:)

Christine Bush

Let’s Be Civil
By Christine Bush

In a thread below, I was asked to make a blanket statement about newcomers to the Registry. I cannot. I do not believe anything about ALL applicants except that they should be given a chance to succeed that extends beyond the “approval” process.

I understand we want to protect the reputation of our Registry. But what of our reputation as a community? The promotional banner on our application page reads: “If you practice ethical journalism, you are welcome on Civil.”

Is this true?

I believe that we need to consider with some empathy the applicant experience and what has already happened when an application is put before us.

These organizations have taken the time and effort to: i) learn about us; ii) they have paid a non-trivial fee to participate (using what may well be their first interactions with cryptocurrency); iii) they have agreed to adhere to our standards of journalistic excellence (the details of which are fresh and contested ). They’ve jumped through hoops to be here.

In committing a 5,000 CVL fee to our enterprise (an appropriate, but non-trivial amount in my opinion) and pledging to “adhere to our community’s standards of journalistic ethics” an applicant is on the registry as a “Newsroom In Progress .” They should have a reasonable expectation that they will be approved and that a Challenge will not be issued before the period of review has completed.

They have purchased 5000 non-refundable CVL. Should not a ~$1200 USD investment merit more than 14 days worth of good will? BGTW was given 5 days. Those were an expensive 5 days if they are rejected by this Challenge. It will have cost them on average $10 an hour just to say they believe in us.

So, this challenge seems unreasonable to me. I am here to discover, support, and recognize a diversity of newsrooms trying to look forward and believing that Civil represents part of how they want to succeed. Let’s give this applicant, and any applicant that is “practicing ethical journalism,” a chance to grapple with and contribute to the discourse about our Constitution before being bullied by it.

Let’s be more than the Civil Registry[1]. Let’s be a civil community, too.

It seems to me we are trying to re-imagine the structures of journalism. If you agree, then we need to use our imagination as much, if not more, than our power to Challenge.

In this case, I am voting to accept BGTW with confidence in both our registry and our community.

~

1 In case we need reminding, traditional journalism is on its last legs:

Reidob - 2 months ago

I have responded to all these points before and will not do so again here; those comments are below and I invite anyone to peruse them. I think I have made my perspective clear.

I would emphasize one thing, though: in the comments above, Christine speaks of BGTW as a newsroom several times, but the point of my challenge is that they are nothing of the sort. If that is clear and token holders wish to welcome a non-newsroom (or stretch the definition to call them one) to the Registry, I can accept that. But, clearly, I do not believe this would be in the best interest of Civil or of the true newsrooms that do now and will in the future make up the Registry.

mariabustillos - 2 months ago

Apologies, but I could not disagree more. The point of Civil is to promote and protect the practice of ethical journalism. Civil is not a journalism school. It is most emphatically not a place to “re-imagine the structures of journalism.” It’s quite literally the opposite of that. “Newsrooms that are part of the Civil Registry agree to abide by a set of core journalistic principles.” The Constitution enforces specific, carefully defined principles and values.

The firm, unwavering enforcement of the Constitution’s professional standards–which a lot of people worked for many months to refine and articulate, the combined experience of many decades’ work–this is not “bullying.” It’s why a lot of the journalists who are here, are here.

As a separate matter, though BGTW appears to be a worthy organization, my specific problem with their application to the Registry is the fact that it is not a publication, and therefore there’s nobody to hold accountable to the Constitution. There’s no EIC or management structure, no body of work specific to BGTW by which its adherence to the principles of the Constitution might be determined. Rather, the many publications in which the organization’s members publish, with their many and diverse sets of standards, their many organizational structures, would all have to be somehow waved through on a very inexact basis. This strikes me as contrary to the spirit of what Civil is trying to achieve.

BGTW seems like a great organization, but it is not a good fit for Civil.

Christine_Bush - 2 months ago - (Edited)

I was hoping to let my comments above stand on their own. But if I find words I have not written attributed to me, I believe the ethical thing to do is to correct the record:

I made no claim Civil should be a “journalism school.” Nor do I believe that most journalism degrees prepare one for being subjected to online community discernment regarding what constitutes a newsroom or even a “publication” for that matter. These are contested concepts and as such I choose to dissent on disallowing applicants based on a single challenger’s interpretation of them.

I am confident it would likely be revealing to learn how many people on this thread have a degree in journalism. I do not.

Benjamin - 2 months ago - (Edited)

This piece is a strong refutation of some of the points made by Christine Bush, but I would like to note that I respect them and appreciate their clear interest in the success of Civil.

The first point that Christine makes is that “we need to consider with some empathy the applicant experience and what has already happened when an application is put before us.” I agree wholly with this, but I disagree with what they say has already happened. The first of the steps about which I disagree with her is when they say that newsrooms “have paid a non-trivial fee to participate (using what may well be their first interactions with cryptocurrency).” Currently, newsrooms are able to make their applications using grants, meaning that they have little to none of their own money on the line. That means that in at least some cases, all other voters will have more money on the line than the applying newsroom.

Throughout the piece, Christine talks about the need to recognize a “diversity of newsrooms”, empathize with newsrooms, and give them good will. While this should be our goal and we should assume good faith, this does not mean that we need to help newsrooms to comply for any certain period of time. When a newsroom applies to the registry, they are not only asserting that they believe in us but also that they are compliant with our constitution.When a newsroom is not compliant, the appropriate response from section V.2.B of the constitution is to challenge the newsroom. As Maria Bustillos has repeatedly observed, we are not a journalism school and we cannot become one. It is not our responsibility to teach newsrooms how to conduct ethical journalism. To make the assertion of compliance more forceful, I believe that we should move forward with Maria Bustillos’s proposal of freezing in amber newsrooms when they apply to the registry.

Fundamentally the purpose of distinguishing between newsrooms that are in progress and those that are on the registry is to facilitate a clear period of discussion about the newsroom and if necessary, allow a challenge. I believe that it is more respectful to the time of newsrooms and community members to reject newsrooms while they are in progress and all eyes are on them than to allow them onto the registry before rejecting them for pre-existing issues.

Finally, I would ask us all to assume good faith not just in newsrooms, but also our fellow community members. When they say that the challenge is unreasonable and that we should “give this applicant, and any applicant that is “practicing ethical journalism,” a chance to grapple with and contribute to the discourse about our Constitution before being bullied by it,” they ignore the fact that the challenger contested where ethical journalism was being practiced and reduces the challenge, which is one of the fundamental constitutional mechanisms of Civil, to bullying. I don’t believe that challenges should ever be about the individuals involved. They should solely focus on whether the newsroom in question is in compliance and they should be conducted in a cooperative way, when possible, to try to reach solutions beneficial for the community and the integrity of the registry.

Reidob - 2 months ago

I initiated this challenge based on my reading of the Constitution, but also on what I believe to be the vision upon which the Constitution is based. What Civil means to me, and has meant to me since the beginning, is something complex and inspired, a place where people could come to find the best of journalism all in one place, where we could work together to preserve something precious that is at risk of dying completely: an independent, original, nuanced, hard-working, free press.

This challenge is far from frivolous. I believe in what Civil can stand for with all my heart and think the seed that has been planted here is strong in potential but fragile in fact. The type of newsroom represented by BGTW, it seems to me, represents a crossroads of sorts, a decision we must make between two competing visions–one in which we truly become a robust Registry of working newsrooms or, on the other hand, a more diluted version that takes all comers and becomes something less than the respected news portal we aspire to be.

I say nothing against the credentials or integrity of the journalists involved in this guild. I have done my homework and see that they are prominent travel writers with many credits to their name. And, yes, I recognize they have some articles on their site that are journalistic in nature. But the overall enterprise here is not journalism, but promotion of the careers of journalists. There is no shame in that, of course, and I fully support their right to do so. But if what we are trying to build here is something grander than a list of organizations affiliated with journalism, if what we are in fact trying to build is a Registry of the best independent news organizations around, I believe we should wish the BGTW well, but not invite them to be on that Registry.

I understand this is a grandiose vision, and that drawing such a bright line between true newsrooms and organizations such as BGTW strikes some people here as extreme. But this is the vision that stirred me when I first became involved with Civil, and that has kept me going through all of the ups and downs, the growing pains and the challenges, of the founding of Civil. It is this deep belief in the potential of Civil that has caused me to put this challenge in place, in the hope that we can preserve the vision as we go forward into the next phase of our existence as a collective of the very best that modern journalism has to offer.

SimonBGTW - 2 months ago

Thanks for your comment, Reidob. I of course see what you are trying to create with Civil and completely understand your point of view.

However, please let me reply to one particular point you make. You say: “the overall enterprise here is not journalism, but promotion of the careers of journalists” - to that, I would say isn’t enabling the act of journalism - such as through Civil - the best way to promote the careers of journalists?

Giving journalists a platform where they can continue their craft - in a world where the opportunities for such a craft are disappearing - to me seems the best way to promote their careers. All the promotion in the world would not matter if there was simply no market for independent and free press.

If some further distinction is needed, could it perhaps be an option to found a newsroom specifically for Civil that employs the journalists from the BGTW? As in, there would be a more obvious divide between a promotional company (the BGTW as it is now) and a newsroom (the Civil-specific part of the BGTW).

I look forward to your response.

Benjamin - 2 months ago

I’m not Reidob, but for me, BGTW making a separate and distinct newsroom would resolve my concerns.

SimonBGTW - 2 months ago

Thanks for your response Benjamin

GustavMarwin - 2 months ago

Indeed. I’d rather push in this direction though: if they wish to be part of Civil, they just have to make sure they apply under the Newsrooms they work with/for, instead of under this guild website that is not in itself journalism.

Reidob - 2 months ago

Yes, that would absolutely address my challenge. Unfortunately, the way this whole process is set up, you could make that change, but I could not withdraw my challenge in response (once the smart contract is initiated, it must be played out to the end). We have been having quite a robust discussion of these issues in the Civil Slack channel. It is a quandary that I think we may face more and more. You may adapt to the issues raised in the challenge, but the challenge itself is frozen, leaving me at a distinct disadvantage.

As I hope I have made clear, I have nothing but the greatest respect for you and the journalists on your site, and wish you well. I agree entirely that promoting the careers of journalists must be among the roles that Civil plays, but I also believe in the idea of the Registry as the home of newsrooms only and not what might be termed affiliated sites. I think the murkier we make that distinction, the less power the Registry has.

I wish there was a compromise solution to the dilemma of your willingness to consider establishing a newsroom with the journalists from BGTW without either one of us having to lose this challenge. At some point we will figure this all out, but in the meantime one or the other of us will be on the losing end of the challenge. Not a great outcome, but that’s the deal here. We are all on a learning curve. Thanks for your willingness to engage.

Christine_Bush - 2 months ago

I don’t think this is extreme or frivolous at all. I do find it quaint and premature. If you want the “best independent news organizations around” you have to nurture them. They don’t come fully formed. It is not going to happen through Challenges. It is going to happen over time through patronage, oversight, and engagement.

Reidob - 2 months ago

I don’t disagree, but the way Civil is currently structured does not allow for that kind of nurturance. It’s very much a win/lose, black/white paradigm. You’re either in or you’re out. This is the very nature of token curated registries, and we are beginning to experience the shortcomings of that cutthroat approach. I am actively advocating for a different approach, one that allows for precisely the qualities you suggest. There seems to be an almost fatalistic thought process in Civil right now, one that appears to say that a system we invented somehow cannot be changed to be more of an incubator than a winner-take-all competition. But because it was invented by us, we can reinvent it. In the meantime, though, I think it behooves us to make sure that the Registry is reserved for those newsrooms that live up to the title.

If BGTW wishes to establish an actual newsroom and find themselves short of adequate CVL to do so, I would be first in line to give them some of mine; in fact, at a minimum, I am right now pledging everything I will get from this challenge (if I win) to such an effort. I am not in this for any kind of gain, but for the integrity of the Registry, which I take very seriously.

Christine_Bush - 2 months ago

I profoundly disagree. There are Slack channels for every newsroom where unlimited interaction with a newsroom can occur. Challenges should be a last resort. If one wants to nurture, the first step is to get involved with the newsroom…not issue a Challenge.

Benjamin - 2 months ago

If I recall correctly, Reidob tried via multiple methods to communicate their concerns to BGTW before bringing a challenge, so I don’t think that they immediately jumped to issue a challenge.

Reidob - 2 months ago

That is true, although it is also true they were unaware of my desire to engage with them. That is a known failure of the platform and one that Civil has pledged to rectify. Which is to say, there is no notification system to inform the newsroom that there is communication with them or that a challenge has been submitted, unless someone from Civil reaches out to them in some way that was not accessible to me. Since I proceeded on the good faith assumption that they were aware of my concerns but chose not to respond to them, I went forward with the challenge.

In fact, I have no idea if someone has responded to something I wrote here and have to keep coming back to check–unlike Slack, for instance, which I can choose to have notify me when new content is posted. But this discussion forum is, I believe, also under review and may be modified or scrapped for something better. These are all, it seems to me, the predictable growing pains of a platform like this one; I am not concerned. The people involved are intelligent and highly-skilled, not to mention motivated by their love of journalism and this project. They will figure it out.

Christine_Bush - 2 months ago

Benjamin: you do not recall correctly.

According to the “Listing History” in the tab above, the period from Application to Challenge was 5 DAYS.

In my opinion, applicants should have weeks, if not months, to collaborate and comply.

Benjamin - 2 months ago

So to clarify, am I correct to think that you believe that we should allow newsrooms onto the registry even if they are in violation of the constitution in order to give them more time to comply?

Christine_Bush - 2 months ago

Please see my post above, thanks.

Newsy - 2 months ago

Although they definitely don’t fit in the traditional understanding of a ‘newsroom’. They are obviously made up of ethical and responsible journalists and they are publishing some “news”!

The https://bgtw.org/category/news/ is enough for me to say they’re a newsroom, even if they aren’t publishing as often as other newsrooms do. I don’t think frequency of publication is a metric we do/should care about.

I think this challenge is premature, that they should be allowed to stay on the registry, and there should be a continued discussion of their role and how they fit into the registry.

SimonBGTW - 2 months ago

Thanks for your support Newsy!

SimonBGTW - 2 months ago - (Edited)

Hi everyone - I’m the chairman of the BGTW. Thank you for the opportunity to explain this a little better. I had not before received any communication about this challenge so thanks to the Civil team for alerting me.

The BGTW is indeed a collective of professional journalists - as some of you have noticed, some quite notable journalists in certain cases! This website is more of a forward-facing ‘corporate website’, used to disseminate information to applicants, prospective sponsorship partners and the like.

That said, and as Christine_Bush notes, we do also publish work by our members, at https://bgtw.org/category/news and more importantly https://bgtw.org/category/features.

This latter link in particular shows an archive of paid-for work, written and edited by professional and accredited journalists, and I would therefore argue that this absolutely constitutes a newsroom?

If better distinction is required, between this ‘corporate’ website and a more newsroom-focussed website, I would of course be very happy to look into platforms that could help me to create a separate newsroom… Ooh, maybe Civil would work?!

Thanks again. Please do let me know if you have further questions?
Simon

Benjamin - 2 months ago

Thanks for the response, but I just want to call out that I think the comment, “Ooh, maybe Civil would work?!” was unnecessarily snarky and somewhat disrespectful.
Responding to the substance of your response, are the articles published in those sections produced solely for your organization or are they also published elsewhere?

SimonBGTW - 2 months ago

Sorry Benjamin, I certainly did not mean for the comment to be snarky - just playful. My apologies.

Those articles are published solely for the BGTW and are paid for.
Thank you for your response.

Benjamin - 2 months ago

Sorry, tone doesn’t come through well in writing.

Reidob - 2 months ago

I do apologize that you did not have notification of these objections before the challenge was posted. I know that Civil is working on a better notification system. I did also reach out to the organization (BGTW, that is) via email, but did not receive a response. I didn’t know how else to inform you of the questions we had about your application. I am glad you are now aware of the challenge and look forward to your engagement with the process, should you choose to participate further. Thanks for your response.

SimonBGTW - 2 months ago

No problem at all Reidob, apology accepted. You are always welcome to email simon@bgtw.org in the future for whatever reason. I look forward to contributing to this process with you in future. Thanks

Christine_Bush - 3 months ago - (Edited)

I would invite other Civil members to compare the content at these URLs to the issues raised by the challenger.

I think the articles on Charleston, SC and Cumbria have some interesting insights, powerful photographs, and are not without merit. The articles are recent and written by various authors.

This applicant has published a Code of Conduct and they provide content for some well known platforms:

Magazines: National Geographic Traveller, Condé Nast, Wanderlust, in-flight magazines Newspapers: The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent
I think this challenge is premature.

I suggest we should strive to be a bit more welcoming. I don’t find our enterprise to be quite so fragile as some seem suggest. A challenge can just as well be issued in 6 months or six years as upon application.

Do we want to work from a frame of suspicion, or a frame of nurturing oversight? This is the question upon which I choose to believe our success is tied.

Benjamin - 3 months ago

What do you mean that they provide content to those platforms? My understanding is that they are an association of writers, some of whom may write for those publications.

Christine_Bush - 3 months ago

That is all I mean.

kmyers - 3 months ago

I am really not sure I understand the challenge. Is a collection of journalists not a newsroom? Do they require common editors? If they want to republish their original reported work as a collective, why would that fail the newsroom test?

kmyers - 3 months ago

I think, @reidob, this is my concern: “However, the common denominator of all these quoted stipulations is that each newsroom must be practicing journalism when using the platform.”

Can you tell me how this group is not practicing journalism?

Contemplative - 3 months ago

It appears to be a membership organization for journalists. The publishing it engages in appears to be limited to the “News” section on a website that, while representing a collection of journalists, is not itself practicing journalism. In terms of the specific existing language of the Constitution this would not seem compliant.

Christine_Bush - 2 months ago - (Edited)

One can link directly to this and other articles from the BGTW home page via their “Latest News” slideshow:

I believe that CIVIL should not be in the business of micro-managing how newsrooms architect their sites. If they produce qualified journalism, they should be able to distribute and organize it however they see fit.

Benjamin - 2 months ago

I agree that Civil shouldn’t micromanage organization, but they should ensure that the first and foremost concern of every organization is the production of journalism. It is clear that while this organization produces some journalism, their primary concern is the promotion of their members.

Reidob - 3 months ago

The nature of a newsroom, to my understanding, is that it exists for the purpose of publishing journalism. Though this group is, indeed, a collection of journalists, the purpose of the BGTW site is not to publish anything, but to promote the careers of the journalists in the guild. I don’t think this is just a technicality–there is no indication that they have any intent to publish original content on this site and that disqualifies them from inclusion in the Registry. The analogy I would draw is if you had a bunch of doctors sitting in a room, that wouldn’t make them a hospital. They would need to have the infrastructure, support staff, and intent to do the work of a hospital. This is simply a guild of travel journalists and, while they seem well-qualified and well-intentioned, the site itself is not a newsroom.

Reidob - 3 months ago

I have grave concerns about including BGTW (British Guild of Travel Writers) on the Registry. I wish to be clear from the beginning that my qualms have nothing to do with any questions about the integrity or worthiness of the journalists involved in this organization. My objection is based on the simple fact that Civil is a registry of newsrooms, and whatever else this applicant is, it is not a newsroom.

In the Civil Constitution, section II, Key Terms, the definition of a newsroom is, “the basic functional unit for journalism on the Civil network”. In section III, it says, “journalism can be defined as the the activities involved in an independent pursuit of accurate information about recent or current events”. From section IV: “The Civil Protocol enables news organizations to practice independent, fact-based and responsible journalism”. And section VI states that, “Civil is a social contract entered into by Token Holders in service of supporting a free, open and trustworthy press for all.”

I recognize these are somewhat vague definitions of what constitutes the character and purpose of newsrooms on the Registry and that this is intentional; Civil has very carefully crafted the Constitution to protect the integrity of the Registry while also opening the doors as wide as possible to those who wish to join. However, the common denominator of all these quoted stipulations is that each newsroom must be practicing journalism when using the platform.

The integrity and journalistic credentials of the persons behind this website are unimpeachable, as far as I can tell from the research I have done. Indeed, at least two of them are quite prominent in their field of travel writing. If this were a newsroom dedicated to the production of original journalism of this sort, I would have no objection and would, in fact, look forward to reading their work. But that’s not what this is. This is the website of a professional organization and the only function of the website is to promote the careers of its constituent members. No shame in that, of course, but it does not make them a newsroom and, as such, I believe their membership on the Registry should be challenged.

nealmcb - 3 months ago - (Edited)

I agree, and doubt this kind of organization should be seen to fit the constitutional definition of a newsroom. At a minimum, it seems like it would be necessary to come up with a different set of guidelines and requirements for related organizations that aren’t newsrooms.
If the journalism itself isn’t housed in the organization’s website, how can people find and evaluate it?
And how could the site use the newsroom tools? Does the organization even hold any copyright interest or ability to archive the writings on the blockchain?

Reidob - 3 months ago

Somewhat similar arguments have been put forward as an objection to the Fuller Project. Once again, a dedicated group of fine journalists, prominent in their field, a wonderful cause, but simply not a newsroom. I agree that perhaps we need an “affiliated organizations” section of the registry; that might solve this problem.

Benjamin - 3 months ago

I think that the Fuller project is distinct because from my current understanding (while awaiting confirmation or clarification) is that the Fuller project may employ their journalists making it a newsroom without a single publication outlet.

kmyers - 3 months ago

And is “employment” a requirement for journalism? Just trying to parse out.

Benjamin - 3 months ago

I don’t think so. However, I think that the organization must be with the intent to collectively carry out journalism. An organization that runs training workshops for journalists or a group of journalists who have dinner every Friday night would be clear examples of what I think clearly aren’t newsrooms, but are similar to this.

nealmcb - 2 months ago

I’ve changed my mind. After BGTW responded to point out the two places on their web site (news and features) where they do publish original work which they have paid their journalists to write, it seems that the challenge is not not just premature, but misguided. I wish they had seen and responded to the original mail so the questions could have been resolved without a challenge, and I wish there were more flexible ways to end up with a “win-win” outcome here, but as I now understand it, I think BGTW does have a newsroom function and is a worthy member of Civil.
And of course most regular publications also spend some of their resources and web site promoting the journalists they employ.

nealmcb - 2 months ago

Well, I’ve become skeptical again, and wish I’d had the strength of the insights documented in the appeal when voting. I would now lean towards rejecting BGTW now, based on the lack of the rest of the elements that a full Civil newsroom expects.

While I accepted the notion that the site does publish some original work, the appeal is well written, and it appears that there is no clearly stated set of editorial guidelines, etc.

And once again, I hope we quickly establish ways to avoid the win-lose character of the current on-boarding process for newsrooms. That could come either via informal reviews prior to formal application, or via innovations in how the challenges are structured or implemented, or in some other ways.