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November 16, 2022

How Media Works in Crypto

with

Matthew Leising

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Today I'm talking Matthew Leising about the role the media plays in crypto. And the sole that sources and incentives play in the stories told in the media.

Matthew Leising worked for Bloomberg News for 17 years and started covering crypto in 2015. In 2020, he published “Out of the Ether,” a history of Ethereum and the people who created it. Earlier this year he co-founded DeCential Media which is dedicated to telling stories of the founders, builders and visionaries of the new decentralized world.

Mark:

Hi, Matt, Welcome to WTF Crypto. Thanks for joining us.

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure.

Mark:

Well, I'm really excited about today's talk because we're going to get to talk about mainstream media, how it treats crypto, and how the crypto media actually works. We're doing that with you, Matthew Leising. The reason I'm especially interested in this is because media drives a lot of the market. It drives price movements every day when media comes out, just look at Elon Musk and Dogecoin. It also drives our lens on how we interpret what's going on.

Media is really important. As we understand projects and various technologies that are coming out, some media darlings get more play, some get less play and exposure, and that really ends up driving brands and following and value and what gets used. And so it's really important, but it seems kind of hard to interpret it because it seems like a whole organic machine.

I'm very excited that you're joining us to help explain that. I'd love to understand a little bit about your background and what makes you such an effective guide on this topic.

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, absolutely. I've been a reporter since 2001 and spent most of my career at Bloomberg News from 2004 to 2021, when I left to start my own crypto media company called DeCential. While I was at Bloomberg, I'd been covering Wall Street and went through the financial crisis and everything. My beat evolved organically there, and I sort of started covering derivative markets and market structure, which is, how do markets work or not work? What's going on with regulation, fraud and scams? When the CFTC or the SCC would go after people, that all kind of fell under my beat.

Of course, the financial crisis was a huge deal in the global economy. A big part of that was the unregulated derivatives market that traded over the counter, which is private deals between very wealthy, supposedly sophisticated investors and banks. In the aftermath, the Dodd-Frank Act came out and they basically regulated that market for the first time. So I covered that very extensively. By the time that was all done, I had a pretty good feeling for how these markets work and how the banking system works with different banks and their customers.

In 2015, I finally wrapped my head around what blockchain technology was all about, and I realized that it was a network. It's a network of computers spread around the world, it's unstoppable. You can send Bitcoin between these two computers, anyone from peer to peer, no government or corporation can get in the middle. Once that gelled with me, I realized, Wall Street is a microcosm of that as well. It's a network and these folks, these hedge funds, these asset managers, these banks, they're trading amongst each other every day in a very similar fashion.

If they could apply this kind of network technology that blockchain now enable to their own business, the efficiency gains would be amazing. They could really ramp up and save a lot of money because banks have to set aside their own money while trades are settling, and that kind of ties up capital that they can't use in other ways. That's a huge constraint on the way the current system works.

Of course, they wouldn't be using a public blockchain like Bitcoin or whatever. They could create their own network but it would be private and everyone would be known to each other because of the banking laws, but I didn't think that that was such a big hurdle. That's what got me into it. And then I just started following it, and Wall Street was definitely onto it. Ethereum was coming out and it just grew from there.

In a few years it took over my entire beat and all I was writing about was crypto. To be honest, the bond market, there's not a lot that happens there. It's pretty sleepy. My whole beat was taken over and then there was the craziness in 2017 where Bitcoin hit 20,000 for the first time. That was an all time high. Ether was at 1400 and everyone, if you recall around the Thanksgiving dinner table in 2017, they were talking about crypto.

Mark:

Everyone was talking about it.

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, it had broken through. I had a couple year head start on that and so I felt pretty good about it and just went from there. I ended up writing a book about Ethereum and how it was created and the founders and all the kind of personal backstory and the intrigue. There was a lot of mistakes and crazy stuff but it's just a fascinating story and that was a really fun part of my career.

Here I am today, the Editor in Chief of DeCential. We're just trying to do our best to cover this industry in ways that we think, they're not absent but we think that they're not as prevalent as they could be in the way that this industry gets covered by the press, both the trade press and the mainstream media.

Mark:

Okay, great. You spent 17 years at Bloomberg on these beats, and in this day and age that's a long time to spend at any one company, much less in journalism where there's a lot of changes over the last 20 years or so. I'm sure you've seen it all. It's actually quite interesting that you've seen it all from the finance Tradify perspective, and now from the crypto perspective. You've seen a lot of stories.

Matthew Leising:

I was lucky to be at Bloomberg because it's a very stable place. It's not based on ad revenue, which most media companies are. If you're not familiar with it, there's this thing called the Bloomberg Terminal, and it's just an amazing resource that banks and investors use. It's got just a billion different functions, and some people on Wall Street can't live without it. They pay something like $22,000 a year to lease a Bloomberg terminal. It's a fantastic business.

Bloomberg News is a part of that. The terminals go up and down a little bit, but they make billions in profit every year. They're doing great. The news side of it was somewhat sheltered. We didn't go through mass layoffs like you see at other places, or a shut-down. It's insulated in a great way there. I was lucky to have that security in a media landscape, like you said, that is shifting and changing a lot.

Mark:

Okay, well I'm excited to dig into it and also understand more about the publication you've now started. I got to ask though, since this is the week of the FTX debacle and mayhem, how do you feel like it compares to what you observed in 2008? Because it seems like there might be a lot of parallels and that, I wonder how you think the media's grappling with each.

Matthew Leising:

That's a great question. We write a newsletter every week, we have a lead editorial in the newsletter and that's what I'm going to write about. I haven't gotten to it yet but I've been thinking it through because I did make that parallel. The funny thing is, it's definitely bad in crypto. There's a lot of bad stuff happening and people are losing money, which is never anything to feel good about.

I do think that there's a bit of a bubble in the crypto world where people, maybe not everyone here, but a large part of the market that makes up the crypto, it's people who are young, maybe they haven't been through many downturns. Like the financial crisis for certain, that was quite a while ago for a lot of these folks. They might have been in grade school and so when I think about that, I think about...

Mark:

It's amazing to think about that, but you're right. How old was SBF when the financial crisis happened?

Matthew Leising:

What is he? In his early twenties.

Mark:

Not in college, right?

Matthew Leising:

Yeah. I remember being at Bloomberg and watching the markets just absolutely tank and major things are happening, and the global economy was at risk of a serious depression. There's a thing called the Money Market Fund where you're supposed to be able to put your money into this fund, and it's never supposed to go below $1. It broke the buck for the first time during this crisis, and that freaked everyone out.

On the other hand, nobody trusted each other anymore because they didn't know what was on everybody's books. You didn't know where the next Lehman was because Bear Stearns had gone down, Lehman had gone down, Goldman was next, Morgan Stanley was in the cross fairs if the Fed hadn't stepped in. This was a major global event that I got to watch live, and it took years and it cost thousands of people their homes and millions of people their jobs.

We had to save the automotive industry and it was really far reaching. When I have that context in the back of my head, and I've gone through that and I see this week in crypto and FTX suddenly implodes and Binance is going to buy it, and then they back out. Everyone's ringing their hands and it looks like this is the end. Then you look at Ether and it's down 30% or something, and Bitcoin fell from 20,000 to 16,000, but they're not going to zero.

I come out with that perspective where we need to take a step back, I think. This is a localized bad thing, if you were invested in FTX or you had money there and it might be tied up and you can't get it out, that's not good for anyone and I would never wish that on anyone. Bigger picture here, the rest of the DeFi world and the Web3 world are going along fine. The main coins that are out there that support all of this fell yes, 20, 30%, but they stabilized and things are going to continue. It doesn't to me have that...

Mark:

It's a great point. If this happens and Bitcoins still worth well over $10,000, that's actually quite impressive. It's definitely a thing.

Matthew Leising:

Over the years, going through these cycles that I've gone through, it's amazing how much punishment crypto can take and it'll just keep going. We've been through so many. This year alone, the failure of centralized institutions in this market, that's been the theme here. We had Three Arrows Capital Hedge Fund that was totally opaque, go down and tear Luna down and others down with it.

You've got FTX and Binance now, they're dragging down Solana, another big blockchain with it because Solana has a big exposure to FTX. What all of these have in common is that they're centralized single points of failure in this market. If you know the backstory here, the people that are really passionate about this are getting into it to get away from single points of failure. That's why a peer-to-peer network is an important and valuable thing.

Mark:

It is odd that a lot of these are really Tradify crypto and that gets conflated.

Matthew Leising:

I don't think it's odd. I really don't. I don't think it's a coincidence. I think they're bringing in the worst aspects of Web3 or the traditional financial world and trying to put it on a blockchain. If you make the mistakes that people have made in traditional finance over decades, you're going to have a run on the bank like FTX just did.

If you're opaque and you're completely over levered and can't make loan payments like Three Arrows Capital, you're going to go down and you're going to take others with you. That's a lesson that anyone who's followed finance should know from way back. This is nothing new.

Mark:

A hundred percent. It still strikes me that despite these being the same stories that repeat themselves in different contexts, when it happens there's such a fog of war. There's such FUD that it's very hard to figure out what's going on.

Could you walk me through how a media company wades through that and tries to report accurately when it's so hard to figure out what's real, what's fake, what's FUD and what's legit? It seems hard to do in the last several days with FTX, but also hard to do in the financial crisis.

It's easy to look back in retrospect and say, "Here's what was happening." But at the time, you've got to put out a piece and set narrative in the market and you have no idea what's actually going on. I don't even understand how a media company in the abstract grapples with that problem.

Matthew Leising:

At a traditional media company like Bloomberg where I was, we had a great bond team. The editors and reporters who were covering the bond market, they saw what was happening with the mortgage market and how subprime and no-money-down mortgages were being bundled and sold and the risk that imposed. I wasn't a part of this team but my colleagues were really good on it. They had seen the writing on the wall and knew what was possibly coming. They weren't blinded when everything started.

Mark:

They were already specialists in that area and they're on a beat, I guess.

Matthew Leising:

They had been warning about it and saying things like, "Look, this is bad. Look at these indications here and here and whatever." There was a hedge fund that failed in August of 2007 and that was really the beginning of the crisis. And then Bear Stearns fell in January I think of '08, and then it just got worse.

If you're good on your beat and you should know that. You should know that this is kind of a house of cards or whatever the case may be, that's one factor. When things go to shit, it's a mad scramble at first to just first of all, did somebody get a scoop? What happened with FTX was CoinDesk had a story and it was a scoop saying that they look like they're in trouble, that they're really exposed to Alameda and they might be over levered. That started the process here.

Now, if you're at a rival news organization, you want to try to match that story and figure out, is it real? Is it true? When FTX comes out and says, "Whoops, we're going to sell ourselves to Binance." They did that publicly on Twitter, then you're really just scrambling and trying to make... At least here you have public statements that you can use to back up a story.

What you're trying to do is calling all my sources, who can talk to me about this? Who wants to talk on the record? Who's maybe got a business relationship with these parties involved, and what are you seeing on the backside? Are you able to withdraw your money? What are they telling you about over email? You just ask these questions and try to get a sense of what's actually going on and you're basically doing that in real time.

On the other hand, then you're going to want to have somebody who looks bigger picture and says, what's the analysis here? What does this mean? What's going on? So you'd hopefully have another reporter or an editor who could write something like that to put it all in a bigger context. In general, it's just a mad scramble to try to get things to make sure you're reporting accurately, to be checking on other scoops.

One thing we would do at Bloomberg, if a competitor had a scoop and we did the reporting and realized, that's not true from what we're being told, we wouldn't go out and write a story saying that the Wall Street Journal got it wrong. We just wouldn't do the story. We would sort of point in another direction or try to pick another angle.

I think that maybe a lot of people don't understand, and not all news organizations will do that but most do because you don't really want to spend time just swatting down something that's not true. You just want to find out what is true. There's a lot of complexities that go into it but honestly, it is just a mad dash to try to get the best story you can as quickly as you can and as accurately as you can.

Mark:

That's super interesting and it's a tough problem because you're balancing a lot of risks. You're balancing speed, you're balancing accuracy and relevancy. I guess my question is, obviously there's trade offs there, obviously. I wonder what you think the acceptable confidence level is, where's the threshold for being accurate? What do you think the accuracy level is in retrospect after a lot of these big events go down with respect to the reporting?

Matthew Leising:

Oh God, I don't know that.

Mark:

Do you think it's 95% or 50/50?

Matthew Leising:

It really depends on what kind of media organization we're talking about. I know at major ones, there's definitely checks involved where I believe to report anything on a background basis where you're not naming your sources, you should have two separate sources telling you the same thing, ideally from different sides of whatever you're talking about. If the source is really good and really firsthand, you can run with a single source but that's rare and not something that I'm a big proponent of.

That's sort of standard for major media organizations. Then you get into the trade press and the standards get much looser and probably single source. I'm not sure if the editors even know who the source is because that's another thing. Some places, for whatever reason and I don't agree with this, they won't have to tell their editors who they're actually speaking with about. I know that is allowed.

When it comes to stuff like that, I don't have a very high confidence at all. I'd say it's 50/50. It has as much chance of being right as it does, as being wrong. Those folks have a different incentive. They want to get readers, they want to get clicks and they want to try to beat everybody so they'll cut corners. I think that's a problem in all media. It's not just crypto where you'll see thing.

The New York Post has a different standard than the New York Times for this kind of stuff. That's just the way. There're these layers of stratification in the media and the lower you go the less, then you get to the Enquirer and people are just making stuff up.

Mark:

So trade publications in this context are CoinDesk, Cointelegraph, basically crypto specific publications.

Matthew Leising:

The Block, The Defiant.

Mark:

You mentioned editors and a lot comes down to editors and there's a lot of quality control. We were talking about in these mad dashes but zooming out, mad dashes and just day to day coverage. Who gets to decide what kind of goes in the paper and who focuses on what? I presume that's the editor but I also assume there's some sort of interplay between editors and the journalists?

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, for sure. It varies by publication. There's two cases. One is an editor will be very involved with the beat that they're part of and can assign stories and say, Look at this. I want you to go find out what's going on here, or go try to do a profile of this person. So they can obviously assign stories. Those can be again, try to break some news here. This doesn't make sense to us. Let's figure out what's actually going on. So you can run the gamut between feature and breaking news or news analysis.

On the other hand, if a reporter has been in a beat a long time and they're very good, they should be bringing stories to the editors. They should be breaking news because they're talking to people and they understand what's going on and they know the context. They can say, "Look, I got to scoop, let's do it and here's what it is. I'm going to write it up really fast and then let's go for it." You've got to get sourcing approval and all that stuff. I know it varies depending on what sort of newspaper or magazine or whatever you're at these days but there's always a balance.

My career, at least for a long time, I was usually bringing stories to the editors. Bloomberg is a bit hands-off in terms of their editors getting involved in coverage. They're there to edit and be a check on what you're saying and copy edit and also make sure that your sources are valid. In my experience anyway, they didn't get super involved with the actual dirty process of making the sausage.

Mark:

Can you talk through the incentives that an editor might face and the incentives that a journalist might face with respect to their career? One's presumably an editor doesn't want to get fired, and so there're certain things they just don't want to let through. But also they're responsible for perhaps a P&L and revenue growth and so they're optimizing around eyeballs. I don't know what the actual career incentives are for each of those two parties.

Matthew Leising:

It's a little nebulous. I think as a reporter, all you have is your reputation. You want to have a good reputation and you build that by getting scoops and by telling people things that they don't know and being accurate and being right about what you're telling folks. That lends a certain amount of power to a reporter because then they're seen as somebody who can get scoops into the paper and break news. Don't forget the other side of this equation is sources in whatever industry you're covering or whoever, politics, whatever. They have agendas as well and so does the press. Everyone has their own agenda.

If it's Wall Street or finance, somebody has an agenda and they're coming to a reporter with a story or the reporter's asking the right questions and they're going to tell them what the reporter wants to know because maybe they're saying something about a competitor or this is a juicy rumor that they want to see if it's true. They'll give it to a reporter and then the reporter will go out and ask other people.

One of the great things about being a reporter is I have access to everyone. If I'm at say, the crypto exchange Gemini, I can't just go call up somebody at Coinbase and ask them what's going on. They're competitors and there's walls there and people won't talk to competitors. As a reporter, I've got access to all those people so I can call them up and triangulate and figure out, is this true or what's true about it or what's not true about it? You've got that. That's one of the great things about being a reporter is that access to everyone.

As an editor then, you like to be the editor of a star reporter or a group of star reporters and you want to be seen as helping drive that coverage and making it good and getting it out and not having corrections and making sure that everything is really flowing. And that if you get a scoop, the editor's there, "What's the second day story? Let's follow this and keep it." They say, "We want to own this story." It's a big story. You want all the readers out there to know that they have to come to the New York Times or they have to come to Bloomberg to get what is actually happening here.

I've seen that over my career. There are certain stories where people, they just own it. They do. They have the sources and the source just keeps going back to them and telling them what's the next thing. A big example was the Washington Post with Watergate. They just worked their asses off and got the right sources and were able to drive that whole story. There were other people of course on that story, but the Post really drove that.

That's sort of the incentive from a reporter and an editor's standpoint because at the end of the year, every media organization will look back and say, what are our biggest stories? What was the biggest impact we had? If you're in the middle of those stories, either as a reporter or an editor on that team, that's good for your career and that's good for your salary and all that other stuff, bonus, whatever it might be. It starts nebulously but then it does have a concrete final point at the end there.

Mark:

It kind of sounds from what you've just described, what makes a reporter great has a lot to do with their sources.

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, absolutely. It's almost everything. Editors are there also to clean up bad writing. I've known a lot of really good reporters who are terrible writers. When it comes to putting words on the page, they are not good. It's not easy to write and not easy to write quickly either when you're under pressure and a deadline situation. That's actually one reason I never wanted to be an editor at Bloomberg because I knew there was so many crap writers out there and I didn't want to be just cleaning up.

The number one thing you need to do as a reporter is get people to trust you because they're telling you information that they probably shouldn't be telling you in the first place. If they don't trust you with it, they're not going to tell it to you in the first place. If they do, then you can build up a relationship with them and you'll have, "He got it right on this last story." You build that up over years and then there's a good working relationship you have with someone.

I think the worst thing for people is when they tell something to a reporter and then a reporter goes away and gets the context wrong or doesn't understand the big picture enough to put it in the right frame. It's kind of like they shot themselves in the foot. You want somebody who is also good at their job but understands the big picture, understands the technology if you're talking about technology or the political landscape, if it's politics you're covering or whatever.

There's a lot of different aspects to it but really it all comes down to trust and that's something that you can lose really quickly. That's kind of what I was getting back to with, your reputation is really all you have and you can lose that really quickly.

Mark:

That term trust is an interesting one because they're talking to a reporter. When you say trust, do you mean getting the context right? Do you mean not painting them in a negative light, the source? Do you mean not disclosing their name? Do you mean not reporting on what they've said but using it as an off the record hand? What is the trust they're actually giving you?

Matthew Leising:

First of all, trust is protecting their identity if it's off the record or on background. Definitely, because that is number one. You're allowing them to tell you something in confidence so you have to protect that confidence, but you also have to do your job. You don't stupidly go around and say, "Joe Blow told me this," when you're trying to get a second source, you have to be discreet about this is what I heard.

You can blow that trust by outing them to their competitors or to someone else. That's a bad mistake for a reporter to make. So there's that. It's getting the context right. It's making sure that you chase it down and don't just take what the person said as gospel. You've got to go get other sources because maybe they have half of it right but they've got half of it wrong. You've got to figure that out.

Mark:

And if they have an agenda.

Matthew Leising:

Of course, they have an agenda. Like I said, everyone has an agenda. You need to have that in the back of your mind and maybe in the front of your mind to make sure that you're not getting lead. That's why one-source stories are so problematic because you can really just get screwed over and miss the bigger picture. It's all that.

If you do a good job at that, then people, they recognize it and they will trust you and then they will take your calls and they will help you. Maybe they'll give you a tip, maybe before you had a tip and you were coming to them trying to get it confirmed and they would have helped you. Maybe the next time they were like, "This is a good story. I should call Matt and tell him about it and I know he'll do a good job." That's how it works in the background there with sources and reporters.

Mark:

That brings us to crypto where it seems like everything happens on Twitter. It almost seems like sources are relatively less important than the mainstream media just because everything happens on Twitter. It also seems like it's a much harder context because so many people are anonymous and it's just hard to verify things when you're dealing with someone who's a non.

How do you think this changes when you're zooming in from mainstream media to the crypto world in particular in reporting on it? Does it change the structure of what makes a journalist good and what gets published?

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, I think it does. It was something that struck me quite profoundly because I was coming from covering Wall Street and you've got a ton of sources that know what's going on. They might be in a regulatory body like the CFTC, it's going to be at a bank, it's going to be somebody at a hedge fund. Lawyers will talk to you. There're all sorts of different ways you can try to get into a story.

Again, you have to have that trust and you have to protect people's identities. I had a great expense account at Bloomberg and I would take people out on my Amex all the time to try to get this stuff, tips and gossip and what's going on and what's the next, what should I be doing? That helped break a lot of news.

Then I kind of shifted into crypto coverage and I realized really quickly that it was very different because first of all, a lot of times what you're dealing with are startups that are small and maybe only have a handful of people who are running the show, but they might be very influential and they might be running a DeFi protocol or something that's got a lot of money backed into it. If you hear something about them, there's only a few people that really know what's going on. If they don't want to talk to you, you don't have the triangulation ability that you do when it's a Wall Street environment.

It can be really hard to get good information from sources. Then there's the part that you mentioned on Twitter. A lot of people, if things go bad, I think it's just part of the crypto ethic is they put it out on Twitter. They'll just go out and say it publicly and then watch the crypto press react to those tweets. It did change my perspective on, what's valuable here?

It's not so much scoops anymore but what's valuable I think, is really understanding the technology, understanding what it can and can't do, so that when you have somebody coming to you and they want to pitch a story, you need to know when somebody's trying to pull the wool over your eyes. You need to know the tech well and you need to know how the systems work and stuff so you can try to be a bit of a curator on those stories.

Again, like you said, the great example of this was the FTX thing this week. CoinDesk did a good story. They questioned whether FTX was sort of wobbling and Alameda, the company that was closely tied to them was over levered or having issues with liquidity. So that was a scoop. A few days later, you've got Sam Bankman-Fried. Here's what here's starting it, it's a scoop for sure. A few days later on Sunday or something this past week, Sam Bankman-Fried is coming out on Twitter and publicly saying that he's going to sell to Binance.

And then CZ at Binance is saying, "Yeah, we're in discussions." It all now shifts to the public sphere where this is all being kind of confirmed and the story is being progressed on Twitter, which is weird and it's not something that I was used to for a lot of my career. I'm in a bubble myself a bit here. I don't follow a lot of other industries on Twitter but I have a feeling that it just doesn't happen as much in other industries as it is in crypto.

Mark:

Yeah, I agree. When it does, it's Elon Musk and everyone thinks it's very strange. Elon Musk behavior within the crypto sphere is almost the norm.

Matthew Leising:

Nobody tells Elon what to do cause he's in charge. There's nobody wapping him on the knuckles for a bad tweet. He just does what he wants to do. When you get to the level of Sam Bankman-Fried or CZ or Vitalik Buterin for that matter, these guys can put out whatever they want.

If a public company CEO tried to do that, I know Musk is that, so it's kind weird. That's why it's weird, right? What are your shareholders going to think? Are you breaking any laws? There're things that you have to really take into consideration here about what you're going to say publicly, off the cuff. In crypto Twitter, that happens constantly.

Mark:

Yeah, it's interesting because then what's really the role of journalism? To your point, it's curatorial and at the end of the day the whole thing was started by a scoop. In some sense, it almost seems like it becomes inherently more investigative because that's where there's value to add.

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, I think that's always a huge value of journalism, is the investigative part of it. Especially serving as a check and balance on power and on influence and whether people are being exploited or this is a scam and we're prove it to you. That's always been and always will be a huge part of why journalism is important. It's no different in crypto journalism.

Like I said, it's a little tougher to find the right people because I'll get tips all the time and it's, "This company is in trouble. I don't know anybody at that company and that company has five people in it."

You have to be discreet. You can't just start going around and saying, "I heard this company's about to fail. Can you give me an email address?" You don't want to do that. You don't want to spread rumors. It's tricky. You really have to have a good group of sources.

One last thing I'll add to this is it's also a global industry. These folks are spread all around the world. This is not New York City Manhattan where most of the financial world, at least obviously the US financial world is there in this tight little space. This is all over the place and so that can be a challenge as well.

Mark:

This process is happening and there's some sort of bias in what comes into you and what you or an editor, if it's a larger publication, decide to focus on. How does that work? SPF, everything he says is getting amplified across the media. There's this potential on FTX and that's worth looking into and that is worth reporting on. Something about a five person company that might have an enormous amount in TBL doesn't get reported on.

It seems like there's this bias in what's newsworthy and I think part of it's just the zeitgeist, right? Part of it's your own sources and the idiosyncrasies of the team that's in a publication. I'm sure there's also other factors. There's PR agencies. I guess, just what gets the most clicks. Where do you see as the most interesting and potentially problematic biases and who gets coverage and what gets coverage that's not just based on what you yourself view as newsworthy internally?

Matthew Leising:

The squeaky wheel tends to get the oil. I think that is sort of Elon Musk. He's easy to cover because he's saying so many things and going on Saturday Night Live and this and that. It's an ongoing festival with him. If people are quiet and just doing things in the background and nobody really knows, then it's hard. Then you really have to find the right people to talk to and have the right connections to start understanding what's going on because there's not a lot out there and you have to create the trail yourself. There is no trail.

I've done that in my career but it's difficult because when people don't want to talk, they usually have a reason why they don't want to talk. A lot of times there's maybe a lot of money involved and so there's something at risk. Your question made me think of the SCC has been coming after folks recently this year with enforcement actions and that's how they're regulating the market. They've come out against some, not really big names, but then on their watch you've got Three Arrows Capital failing and you've got Celsius failing and you've got Terra (LUNA) failing. They're going after these other smaller fish when these big fish are dying.

That's a part of it. Where is the attention being focused? It's hard because we're only as good as our sources to be honest. We are not in the industry. I'm not a coder, I'm not trading crypto. I don't have relationships with these people on a business or technology side. I want to report the news and tell stories but you still have a job to do. You still need to be going out and asking people what's going on and tell me something that I don't know. You do that as part of your job but at the end of the day, we're only as good as the people who we rely on for that actual firsthand information.

Mark:

It's interesting, just people doing their best and so they're taking what comes in and trying their best to filter it. It struck me as interesting because I run Shipyard and we have a decentralized exchange clipper and obviously we're trying to promote Shipyard. I read a bunch of op-eds and we have a PR firm. We pay the PR firm quite a bit amount of money and they deliver a good amount of value. One way they deliver a good amount of value is that they have relationships with a bunch of journalists. This is how PR firms work.

When journalists say, "Here's some articles I'm writing, I'm looking for some quotes, some interesting commentary." And the PR firm say, "Here are five people who are clients of ours and we can get them to generate a quote." That's an easy way to get access and it's also the PR firm does a bit of the journalists work for them. It strikes me there's a lot of these pay to play examples. At the end of the day, there's just not a total way around that because at the center is people making decisions around what to publish and what they find what comes to them is what gets filtered down.

Matthew Leising:

There's a term for that in the reporting side, it's called beat maintenance. This isn't the greatest story in the world but I'm doing it to keep people. It's a story. First of all, it has to be a story but maybe it's not shocking or anything. I'm doing this to maintain my beat and maintain relationships with the people that I talk to on a daily basis so that when something big does happen, I'll be there and they'll think of me.

There always is a give and take and I don't think any reporter is unwilling to just sort do a profile on someone or to do something that's not super hard hitting to get to know someone and then you have to start a relationship with them. But then hopefully that relationship will turn into something that's more important or impactful. That is definitely, I think where the PR firm enters the equation is making those introductions to people. A good reporter will take that introduction and hopefully turn that relationship into something more meaningful that down the line can lead to news or can help them make sure that they're getting stuff right.

Mark:

Okay. This has been super interesting. I'd love to understand your take on it now because you have your own publication. You've also written a book that's gone really deep here. Can you tell us about how you plan to take on the crypto journalism role now that you're calling the shots for your own business?

Matthew Leising:

It's been a journey for sure. We just hit our one year birthday at DeCential.

Mark:

Congratulations.

Matthew Leising:

Thank you. It feels like 10 years. I don't think we're taking on anybody but I think my partner and I, my partner Neil Berkeley is a filmmaker and he's on the film side of DeCential and I'm on the editorial side with the written content and podcasting. We just realized that we both tell stories in a very similar way. We like to tell stories through characters and through the people. We didn't think that was being done enough in the crypto space.

There's a lot of, I think, emphasis on the technology or who's raising money. Obviously, you have to report on the scams and the frauds and stuff like that but we wanted to dive in and really tell these stories through the people who are building this Web3 world and decentralized finance and whatnot, NFTs and all that. We thought that by putting the person forward and making them a 3D human being, that would be a good way to bring people along into this world.

If you tell somebody a good story about a person and a character that they can relate to, then it's easier to get them to understand, this is an NFT and this is what we mean by a peer-to-peer network or whatever it might be. You tell me a good story then I got you and I can bring you along and teach you about this stuff as well and hopefully tell you something you didn't know. That was our approach.

I like it a lot because I feel like really through writing my book and getting to know the people who created Ethereum quite deeply, I interviewed Vitalik Buterin for about 12 hours or so over usually one hour time slots, about 10 or 12 times. He shared personal emails with me from back in the day when he was creating Ethereum and I got know a lot of the other folks really well that were involved and important. It just hit home that this space is full of fascinating, weird, funny, brilliant people.

When you're telling stories, that's what you want. You want your characters to be interesting and coming from all different walks of life. In crypto, why did you quit your job? Why are you now 24/7 into this? The risk is immense but you see that everywhere. It really just struck us that we didn't feel like there was enough of that and we felt that some of the mainstream coverage almost disrespects those people when it's cynical or if it's saying that this is all a Ponzi scheme or only reporting on the bad stuff that happens and not the things that are changing certain industries.

It was a disservice and we just kind of wanted to plant our flag and say, we think that this is an amazing time and these are amazing people and we want to tell you their stories.

Mark:

Out of curiosity on decential.io, your site, there's a number of stories. Can you tease one or two that you think were most interesting? I don't want you to pick your favorite child but two that were very interesting that you can tease for me and for listeners?

Matthew Leising:

Gosh, yeah. I mentioned the one year anniversary and so we kind of pulled together our favorite stories over that year in podcasts. You can find that on the site. That's sort of a quick primer. For me, I've interviewed Annika Lewis there who's their head of investment and then we just had the guy Azeem. We were talking to him about DAO because he's got some. He's positive and negative on them and so it's a nice balance.

We've had great interviews with Griff Green over the years who was a huge guy in early Ethereum and went on to found Giveth, which is trying to bring crypto into charitable giving and non-profit funding. He's just a really interesting, funny guy.

We've had Vitalik on a few times in different stories. We had a podcast with Ryan Breslow recently. He founded Love DAO, but before that he founded the payment network that I'm spacing on right now, but he's a billionaire and he's 24. He wants to use a DAO to incentivize and accelerate alternative therapies for diseases. He's looking into, what does turmeric really do?

Mark:

I was just drinking my spicy turmeric tea.

Matthew Leising:

There you go.

Mark:

Let me know when you find out. Super interesting. Is there anywhere else people can find you if they want to learn more? There's of course decential.io. Is there anywhere else people should go with if they want to learn more about you?

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, we're on Twitter, we're @decentialmedia, the website's great. I'm on Twitter personally @Mattleising. If you want to look at or check out my book, it's on Amazon. If you want to spend a little more money on a special edition, there are only a thousand printed. You can find those at outoftheether.net. We're out there and accessible, so come say hi and take a look.

Mark:

Awesome. Thank you. Thank you for writing the stories that we all get to read.

Matthew Leising:

Yeah, you're welcome Mark. Thanks for having me on. It's been a pleasure.

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