Behind the Scenes of a Crypto Editor – On the Record with Danny Nelson, Managing Editor at CoinDesk

Welcome to another ‘On The Record’ with YAP Global. A series where we speak to the journalists behind the stories that keep you up-to-date with the crypto, blockchain and digital asset space. This time we spoke with Danny Nelson at Consensus 2023.

Meet Danny – CoinDesk’s mastermind behind Data and Tokens. Former investigations lead for Tufts Daily at university turned regulatory reporter for federal policy and securities. From the Solana ecosystem to tungsten cubes, Danny’s has covered most aspects of crypto. Danny doesn’t suffer fools and keeps our industry spicy with his Twitter takedowns.  

In this interview: Danny explains his journey from the early interest in Bitcoin, to reporting on the Solana and Arbitrum ecosystems. Not to forget, he highlights the multidisciplinary nature of crypto journalism and the importance of quality reporting. 

The Lowdown at CoinDesk 

I started in September 2019 as an intern, that was my first job out of college. I studied at Tufts University in Boston, English for writing and Judaic Studies for finance. 

Back in the day when I first started out, I was working closely with Nick De, so my main focus was on regulation. I took it upon myself to find ways to do my job well, it was all very new at that time. I managed to set up elaborate Google searches that scanned various regulatory websites worldwide. This helped me stay informed about changes in monetary policies, securities law, and digital asset treatment across different countries.

I would often find information that other reporters missed, and as I became more comfortable with crypto and its many nuances, my coverage broadened from central bank monetary policy and CBDCs to DAOs and NFTs. Crypto is a vast and diverse field, and one needs to be knowledgeable in securities regulation and other areas to cover it comprehensively.

Currently, I am the managing editor for data and tokens which is a new team that focuses on DAO governance, crypto communities, the flow of money, and how to follow and understand it on-chain. We’re trying to bring more light to on-chain data because this is an essential part of the crypto landscape, but you need to be a specialist to do it.

You have some streaks of being a Bitcoiner. Why did you get interested in crypto and Bitcoin back in 2015? 

My early experiences in crypto lead me to see the value of permissionless money on the internet, just like many others. I continue to be fascinated by its potential to disrupt traditional financial systems.

So in 2020, you were getting comfortable with the crypto landscape and regulation, then DeFi summer came around. Did that change anything? 

Covid really shook up crypto, which had been hibernating throughout 2019. Initially, I was skeptical about the need for other cryptocurrencies besides Bitcoin and Ethereum, considering the rest of the crypto market “crap.” However, when COVID hit, people had more time on their hands, leading to an explosion in crypto investments and coding, giving rise to DeFi summer.

As other ecosystems emerged, I started looking at Solana in the summer of 2021. The beat provided new opportunities and a close understanding of the Solana ecosystem, which has been my most formative experience as a reporter.

How is Solana doing now?

It’s still too early to say whether Solana will survive in its current form, like with any cryptocurrency. The recent downfall of SBF and FTX has definitely affected the ecosystem, and Solana has lost its spot in the top three cryptocurrencies. However, Solana still boasts one of the largest and most distinct communities in crypto, with a unique personality that sets it apart from others. This strong community has been a key factor in Solana’s success so far, and whether it becomes a cult or a movement remains to be seen. Ultimately, the future of Solana and crypto as a whole is uncertain, and only time will tell how things play out.

Recently, you’ve been writing a lot about Arbitrum. Is that where most of the action is at the moment? 

Well, there’s a huge amount of activity on Arbitrum. It’s been more sustained than I would have expected. I’m not following Arbitrum’s day-to-day statistics, but you could tell that it wasn’t just people trying to farm the airdrop. The tokens have now arrived and you’re still seeing plenty of activity at GMX and other entities on Arbitrum, so the energy is there. For DAOs, Arbitrum is its own special basket case. I was writing about this and it really stood out to me, that the language that crypto uses about itself is really problematic. The notion of a DAO, a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, is an ideal but it’s very far from reality in most cases…

When Arbitrum had its very first community vote on the budget, people took issue with how the DAO was positioning it. Arbitrum’s people came out and said, “Oh, well, we weren’t actually asking for your permission here. We’ve already moved the money and we were just looking for your approval”. Well, then why are you asking holders to vote?

In terms of crypto journalism, you have experienced a lot. Why should aspiring reporters consider making this their beat? 

Definitely experienced a lot, it’s crazy. The story of crypto is still so new, and the opportunities for learning and impact are immense. It’s a multidisciplinary field, and quality reporting is crucial because there are so many perspectives on crypto’s potential for the world. I personally believe in the ideals we discussed previously and I’m interested in seeing how they play out. But there are also people who are in it for personal gain and not for the greater good. This may not necessarily be a problem, but it’s important to be aware of the incentives at play and how they can change over time. That’s why good reporting is necessary, to tell the story of crypto in a comprehensive and accurate way.

Reporters need to have a deep understanding of the tools, language, culture, and mechanisms of crypto to effectively report on it. They need to know how to analyze asset flows on the blockchain and understand cryptography and consensus mechanisms. In my opinion, crypto journalism is the most interesting space to be in right now, and it has the potential to be very powerful. I may be biased because it’s the only job I’ve ever had, but I truly believe in the importance of quality reporting in this field.

Any parting thoughts? 

I hope I haven’t scared anyone away. If anything, I hope I’ve inspired them to delve deeper into this mental world of crypto journalism.

You can read Danny’s coverage on CoinDesk here

Follow Danny on Twitter here.

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