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Reporting on crypto versus TradFi is a minefield no matter how you slice it

Reporting on crypto versus TradFi is a minefield no matter how you slice it
Robert Holloway is DL News' ombudsman
  • Accessibility of sources is a problem for traditional finance journalists
  • Crypto reporters face different challenges

Robert Holloway is DL News’ ombudsman. Views expressed are his own.

For three weeks I have been trying to set up an interview. Three phone calls have been answered and two emails acknowledged. But it is still unclear whether the person I wish to interview will agree.

TradFi reporters will understand how I feel. Patience is not so much a virtue as part of the job description.

‘A lot of what they say is sanitised with a corporate gloss’

“Parts of TradFi are like a fortress,” our regulation correspondent Joanna Wright said. “They are almost impenetrable because they have no interest in speaking to journalists.”

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The few sources who are permitted to speak on the record, she added, “are heavily media trained, so a lot of what they say is sanitised with a corporate gloss.”

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On the face of it, crypto journalists have an easier time. A lot of people can be reached through Twitter or Telegram and are usually willing, even eager, to talk.

“They get right back to you, no-one knows the word quote check,” Jo said.

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There are, however, other challenges to crypto reporting.

For a start, it requires a high level of technical understanding.

“Crypto journalism covers, essentially, finance plus technology,” our managing editor Ekin Genç noted. “These can be hard subjects to penetrate. They require highly specialised knowledge.”

While other fields of journalism also require technical know-how, Ekin said that in crypto, “you are writing for a highly engaged audience who are passionate about what they do. They will be critical of the slightest mistake. You need to be really accurate.”

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Part of Ekin’s job is to recruit new reporters for our website, and he said the skills he looks for make that difficult.

“You have to be clear about the terminology you use: we don’t want to process someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.

DeFi reporter Tim Craig said one of the difficulties of his job was the lack of understanding in some readers.

“Everyone understands something about traditional finance,” he said. “We all know what a bank is, it’s very much ingrained in the cultural consciousness.”

He cited the failure of First Republic Bank as an example.

“People can understand the gist of it. At a basic level of reporting, readers have the context for it,” he said.

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“In crypto, fewer people have the context. If you are using it, it can seem like second nature – someone might say, ‘I know what a decentralised exchange is, I know how blockchain transactions work.’ But getting that into a digestible format can be very challenging.”

An additional difficulty is the incompetence of some data analysts.

“A lot of people see crypto as an untapped field. There’s a strong need for certain kinds of analytics platforms to make sense of blockchain data,” Tim said.

“An amateur team will come in and because there is very little competition, they will start doing it.”

But when you look at the data you see that it’s wrong. I have made mistakes in the past where I trusted certain data because I thought the team behind it was reliable.”

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Moreover, while Twitter can be a valuable source for leads, it can compound errors.

Big surges in transactions sometimes happen at the weekend, putting pressure on reporters.

It becomes very difficult to publish the correct version of things because people think they’ve seen the correct version already’

“It might turn out that some data was reported wrong. But if the data shows a good trend — like an increase in users — once it gets on Twitter, people will want to retweet to show how their investment is going well,” Tim said.

“Once it’s on Twitter and goes around it becomes fact. It becomes very difficult to publish the correct version of things because people think they’ve seen the correct version already.”

Jo noted another trap in relying on Twitter.

“We have seen examples of sources deliberately messing with journalists, telling complete porkies just to see what they will follow,” she said.

In extreme cases, people have published journalists’ requests for information.

“Sometimes they are just laughing at the journalist,” she said. “That’s never happened to me in TradFi reporting.”

Financial institutions are usually strongly regulated so as to prevent their staff revealing corporate secrets. Not all TradFi sources are unwilling to speak, however.

“Research analysts are always happy to talk,” Jo said. “They are providing a service and the more they talk to the media the more it advertises their services.”

But, she said, “most of the reporting I have done is back-office stuff. There is just no interest in talking to people. Making contacts is almost impossible.”

Do you have other insights into the coverage of either TradFi or crypto? Send your comments to me at