Reporter’s Notebook: What I learned about Bitcoin

Emily Letterman, Features Editor

Like most Americans, I’d only heard of Bitcoin in passing. It was just this thing out there that some people I knew were talking about, or tweeting about or Facebooking about, but nobody really seemed to know what it was or how it worked.

So, I set out to find out.

And then I fell down the rabbit hole.
(A hole, which was probably mined by Bitcoin.)

I pitched the idea during an editorial meeting and it was a huge success. Mostly because, like me, everyone knew bits and pieces of a story, but wanted to know more. I’d soon find out those bits and pieces of information floating around out there were harder to string together than I thought.

Any story begins with research. This one required lots of research. Bitcoin.org had interesting information and I was starting to learn the lingo, but I was more confused than ever.

How do Bitcoin miners create new bitcoins? Through complex mathematical equations? Oh, right, that makes a lot of sense.

Step two: Read what others have written about it. Often times, it helps me most not to read legal lingo or corporate jargon on what a product is or does from the official website, but rather to simply read the work of my peers. It’s a reporter’s job to not only inform the public about the news of the day, but also make that news or information simple and easy to understand. If the reader doesn’t understand the subject of the article, then what’s the point?

Springfield Business Journal Web Editor Geoff Pickle also sent me a 22-minute YouTube video breaking down Bitcoin. I learned a lot in those 22 minutes. There were charts and graphs and visual aids out the wazoo, but how was I going to turn those pretty pictures and soothing voice into words for my readers?

Step three: Find some people to talk to. Sounds easy enough, I’m a reporter, right? Wrong.

It seems every banker and financial analyst I called was excited about Bitcoin, but for all the wrong reasons. They were all looking forward to reading my article, not talking to me as a source.

Then, like a Hail Mary pass in the final seconds of the championship game, I got an email from a reader the day before my deadline with the subject line: I accept Bitcoin. In my head, the angels were singing. Website designer Jason Dittmer knows a thing or two about Bitcoin. He’s bought it, sold it and accepts it as payment for his services. And the best part? He was willing to share his knowledge with me.

My breakthrough came when Dittmer told me to stop trying to compare bitcoins to dollars. Though both are currency, that’s where the similarities end. Right now, bitcoins are bought and sold more like a commodity, rather than a currency.

Bitcoin is all about the math. If you can look beyond the math, functionality starts to emerge, but the digital currency still has a long way to progress before becoming mainstream.

My article appears in the Jan. 20 edition of SBJ. The digital edition is available to download at 3 p.m. today at SBJ.net and the print edition will hit newsstands on Monday. I hope it helps our readers look beyond the math.

Many people have asked me if I’ll be purchasing bitcoins now? My initial answer is, “um, no.”  Then I think about it for a second and say, “Maybe.”

That’s the real crux of the Bitcoin argument: Potential. People haven’t fully accepted Bitcoin, but they might.

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