On Nov. 2, the cryptocurrency exchange FTX was worth tens of billions of dollars. Its chief executive, Sam Bankman-Fried, was a billionaire and one of the most prominent people in the crypto world.
But that morning, CoinDesk, an online publication that covers cryptocurrencies, published a scoop suggesting that FTX’s sister company, Alameda Research, was on a shaky financial foundation. A cascade of problems for FTX and Mr. Bankman-Fried followed: A little over a week after the scoop, FTX and Alameda filed for bankruptcy. Mr. Bankman-Fried now faces federal fraud charges.
The article, by Ian Allison, raised the profile and readership for CoinDesk, one in a sea of publications that started up over the past decade to cover cryptocurrencies. Many of the publications have been accused of fawning over the industry, particularly as it shot to new heights in 2020. Some, including CoinDesk, are in the unusual position of covering an industry that helps fund their operations, setting off debates about their independence.
But now, the complications for CoinDesk are even greater. One of the businesses owned by its parent company, Digital Currency Group, a venture capital firm with stakes in numerous crypto projects, faces its own financial troubles and questions about its operations. It is part of the broader fallout in the crypto industry since FTX’s collapse.
This month, Genesis, a cryptocurrency lender owned by DCG, laid off 30 percent of its staff. And on Thursday, federal regulators charged Genesis with offering unregistered securities through a program that promised investors high interest on deposits. The regulators said that Genesis and Gemini Trust, a cryptocurrency exchange, raised billions of dollars of assets from hundreds of thousands of investors without registering the program.
The developments have forced CoinDesk to cover its owners, publishing numerous articles about related developments in the past couple of weeks.
“We cover DCG like any other company, that’s part of our regular coverage,” Michael Casey, CoinDesk’s chief content officer, wrote in a statement to The New York Times.
What to Know About the Collapse of FTX
What is FTX? FTX is a now bankrupt company that was one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges. It enabled customers to trade digital currencies for other digital currencies or traditional money; it also had a native cryptocurrency known as FTT. The company, based in the Bahamas, built its business on risky trading options that are not legal in the United States.
Who is Sam Bankman-Fried? He is the 30-year-old founder of FTX and the former chief executive of FTX. Once a golden boy of the crypto industry, he was a major donor to the Democratic Party and known for his commitment to effective altruism, a charitable movement that urges adherents to give away their wealth in efficient and logical ways.
How did FTX’s troubles begin? Last year, Changpeng Zhao, the chief executive of Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, sold the stake he held in FTX back to Mr. Bankman-Fried, receiving a number of FTT tokens in exchange. In November, Mr. Zhao said he would sell the tokens and expressed concerns about FTX’s financial stability. The move, which drove down the price of FTT, spooked investors.
What led to FTX’s collapse? Mr. Zhao’s announcement drove down the price and spooked investors. Traders rushed to withdraw from FTX, causing the company to have a $8 billion shortfall. Binance, FTX’s main rival, offered a loan to save the company but later pulled out, forcing FTX to file for bankruptcy on Nov. 11.
Why was Mr. Bankman-Fried arrested? FTX’s collapse kicked off investigations by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission focused on whether FTX improperly used customer funds to prop up Alameda Research, a crypto trading platform that Mr. Bankman-Fried had helped start. On Dec. 12, Mr. Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas for lying to investors and committing fraud. The day after, the S.E.C. also filed civil fraud charges.
Amanda Cowie, Digital Currency Group’s head of communications, who would not discuss the investigation, said that the company was staying out of editorial decision-making at CoinDesk.
“Like any top-tier media company, it’s imperative to the industry for the leading outlet to run independently,” Ms. Cowie said.
CoinDesk began in 2013, five years after Bitcoin was introduced. The publication, which is based in New York, stayed small for years; in 2017, it had about 10 employees.
But its growth accelerated during the crypto boom that peaked in 2021, and today the company has 160 employees, in countries including the United States, India and Turkey. CoinDesk has interns and a 24/7 news channel.
Led by Mr. Casey, CoinDesk’s coverage regularly includes articles about policy, cryptocurrency markets and the idea of a decentralized internet known as web3. The publication has newsletters that discuss crypto investing as well as interactions between the government and the industry.
The publication covered FTX before Mr. Allison’s article, including Mr. Bankman-Fried’s political donations; the addition of Jill Sommers, a former federal regulator, to the company’s board; and its potential acquisitions.
Mr. Allison had been collecting information on FTX’s financial state when, at a conference in October, he was told off the record about weakness in Alameda’s balance sheet, he wrote in an email to The Times. The source said FTT, a cryptocurrency that FTX had invented for traders to use on its platform, was being used to borrow other crypto assets. Mr. Allison later obtained the balance sheet at the center of his article.
The article drew readers to the site. In November, the publication had 17 million page views, up 96 percent from October, the company said. Over five million of those views were related to coverage of FTX. CoinDesk also broke the news that Mr. Bankman-Fried had dated Caroline Ellison, the chief executive of Alameda.
Nick Baker, CoinDesk’s deputy editor in chief, who has worked on its coverage of FTX and edited Mr. Allison’s article, said he thought the scoop had brought CoinDesk more recognition.
The Aftermath of FTX’s Downfall
The sudden collapse of the crypto exchange has left the industry stunned.
- A Spectacular Rise and Fall: Who is Sam Bankman-Fried and how did he become the face of crypto? “The Daily” charted the spectacular rise and fall of the man behind FTX.
- How FTX Operated: FTX called itself an exchange. But it was vastly different from stock exchanges, which are highly regulated and barred from engaging in many of the activities that the crypto company pursued.
- Bankman-Fried’s Bail Negotiations: Intense legal wrangling led to the disgraced crypto mogul paying virtually nothing to live with his parents ahead of his upcoming trial.
- Ryan Salame: The former FTX executive, who told regulators about wrongdoing at the exchange and was a big Republican donor, has emerged as a central player in the scandal.
“Our profile has been raised tremendously,” Mr. Baker said, noting that major legacy media outlets have cited the publication.
At the same time, the collapse of FTX exposed some of the ties between the crypto industry and the publications dedicated to covering it. In December, Axios reported that The Block, which covers the industry, received undisclosed funding from Mr. Bankman-Fried, including a $16 million loan from Alameda that was used in part to finance an apartment in the Bahamas for Michael McCaffrey, The Block’s chief executive. The funding from Mr. Bankman-Fried raised questions about The Block’s reporting on FTX. Mr. McCaffery resigned. He could not be reached for comment.
DCG says it has not received any money directly from FTX or Alameda.
The site, which is free, relies on advertising for its revenue. The publication also makes money from the Consensus festival, a cryptocurrency conference. Last year’s speakers included Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk’s brother, and Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistle-blower.
Mr. Casey said crypto companies’ marketing budgets were hurt by the financial decline in the industry. He also said the next Consensus was likely to be smaller than it was last year because of less sponsorship money.
There have also been rumblings that CoinDesk has received buyout offers. CoinDesk declined to provide details on its finances, or about any possible offers.
Mr. Casey said the company was committed to building a lasting media business covering the industry. “My view about crypto is that it’s just not going away no matter what anybody might wish,” he said.
For now, that means regularly covering DCG. CoinDesk reported on layoffs at Genesis, the charges from federal regulators against Genesis, and a running dispute between Barry Silbert, the chief executive of DCG, and Cameron Winklevoss, a co-founder of Gemini.
“The crypto winter obviously affects a media platform like CoinDesk,” Mr. Allison, the reporter with the big FTX scoop, said, referring to the huge slowdown in the crypto industry. “But my hope is we can continue to build out the team and bring in-depth independent reporting to crypto.”