When CoinDesk published a suspicious balance sheet of Sam Bankman-Fried’s trading firm in November of 2022, it set off a chain of events that would upend every corner of the crypto industry—including its own.
The ensuing bear market hurt the longtime trade publication’s parent company, Digital Currency Group, leading to layoffs of nearly 50% of CoinDesk‘s editorial team and for DCG put the outfit up for sale. One media report suggested that DCG, which had purchased the publication for only $500,000 in 2016, could fetch as much as $300 million from the sale, but, as with so many things in the crypto world, that figure reflected a wide gulf between aspiration and reality.
In November, DCG completed an all-cash deal with the digital asset exchange Bullish. The sale price was in the range of $70 million to $80 million, according to a person familiar with the deal. (The Block, a competitor, sold to the Singapore-based Foresight Ventures in November 2023 at a valuation of $70 million.)
Now, as a slimmed-down CoinDesk enters its new ownership era, the respected crypto publication hopes to maintain editorial independence while finding stability in a volatile industry. Whether this will come to pass depends on its new owner, whose values are untested and whose business strategy is unclear.
“So far, it’s cautious optimism,” said one CoinDesk staffer, who spoke with Fortune on the condition of anonymity.
Who is Bullish?
The collapse of crypto markets in late 2022 exposed the tension of Digital Currency Group’s relationship with its portfolio publication. CoinDesk not only helped precipitate DCG’s financial troubles but continued to report on the ensuing lawsuits and bankruptcies that plagued owner Barry Silbert’s empire.
Bullish will inherit the same complicated relationship. Led by former New York Stock Exchange President Tom Farley, Bullish is backed by investors including Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, though it lacks the market presence of competitors like Coinbase and Binance. According to CoinMarketCap, Bullish is the 89th-largest exchange by trading volume and unavailable to U.S.-based users.
Launched in 2021, Bullish was the latest venture for a flailing crypto company called Block.one. Cofounded and led by a crypto entrepreneur named Brendan Blumer, Block.one created a blockchain called EOS in June 2018, raising over $4 billion—an incredible sum even during the manic era of “initial coin offerings”—in the largest-ever offering of its kind.
While Block.one marketed EOS as a competitor to Ethereum, the platform suffered from congestion issues and critiques of centralization. In 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered Block.one to pay a $24 million penalty as part of a settlement for its unregistered initial coin offering—an arrangement that many in the crypto industry viewed as favorable given the SEC’s subsequent enforcement actions. Today, EOS is the 32nd-largest blockchain by total value locked, according to CoinMarketCap.
Bullish represented a new attempt at legitimacy for Block.one, seeding the exchange with liquidity from its EOS proceeds and planning to take the company public through a special purpose acquisition company. Bullish called off the deal, which had proposed to value the transaction at $9 billion, in 2022.
Given Bullish’s checkered history, its purchase of CoinDesk raised questions about whether the exchange would honor the publication’s commitment to reporting. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal following the deal, Farley said Bullish was willing to invest “a lot of money” in CoinDesk and that the outlet would operate as an independent subsidiary.
A new leaf
On Thursday, Bullish announced a restructuring of CoinDesk‘s leadership team, despite initially claiming it would stay in place. Longtime CEO Kevin Worth and several other executives were forced out, and former Bullish business development head Sara Stratoberdha was appointed CEO. It will be her first foray into media after working at financial firms including Blackstone and Credit Suisse.
“CoinDesk will remain an independent subsidiary of Bullish Group and Sara is committed to maintaining CoinDesk‘s journalistic independence and integrity,” a CoinDesk spokesperson said in a statement shared with Fortune.
On Friday, Bullish held a town hall with CoinDesk employees to explain the changes, with Stratoberdha answering questions from both the editorial and business sides of the publication. The CoinDesk staffer said the shakeup was expected due to the publication’s struggling revenue figures and last year’s layoffs. “There’s not going to be a lot of tears shed,” the staffer said about the restructuring.
The main concern for editorial staff is whether Bullish will allow CoinDesk to maintain its independence. The staffer said that the retention of key staff, including editor-in-chief Kevin Reynolds, was a positive sign, adding: “I do generally think it’s probably a little too early to start putting dirt on our graves yet.”