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    A clarion call for digital media entrepreneurs

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    Feel like you’re getting short changed by your media options? Cameron Reilly thinks it’s time you stepped up. After all, as Henry David Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

    A very interesting bloke was Mr. Henry Fielding.

    Born 1707. Died 1754. In the intervening 47 years, he brought the world one of the greatest novels of all time, Tom Jones. While holding the job of London’s Chief Magistrate, he invented what many people claim was London’s first police force, the Bow Street Runners (all eight of them). He also wrote the play that assured Tom Thumb’s place in history. He even started a newspaper, The Covent Garden Journal, in which he apparently coined the phrase “the Fourth Estate”… referring to all those who were neither Kings, Lords nor legislators – AKA “The Mob”.

    Many people, especially journalists, carry with them a romantic notion that “The Press” represents the interests of “The Mob” against the other three estates of modern society: The Corporations, The Rich and The Government. Unfortunately, in practice, the capacity of the press to fulfil this obligation falls far short, mostly because they are owned and operated by the three estates they are supposed to be protecting the mob from. Despite the genuine attempts of most honourable members of the profession to uphold their “journalistic integrity”, the practicalities of operating within a system that has been refined over the last 200 years to limit the kinds of stories that are broadcast ensures that the protection the mob receives is, at best, conditional.

    What can we do about it? Who, in the 21st century, will represent the mob? Digital media?

    Over the last few years I’ve watched digital media entrepreneurs around the world getting caught up in the thrill of the online gambit, selling large stakes of their companies to investors. Sometimes they succeed in using the money to build a large business and sometimes they fail and have to exit the company. In both cases, the mob misses out on a champion of its cause. The digital media company ends up either directed by the interests of the investors (typically one or more members of the aforementioned three estates), just as the mainstream media from the 20th century has been, or it ends up on the scrap heap.

    My conclusion is that digital media entrepreneurs can’t be like the rest of the online jetset. They need to have a higher calling. Digital media needs visionaries, activists, guerrilla warriors, not just people out to make a quick bajillion dollars.

    The human race desperately needs a new kind of media. We need a media that isn’t focussed on producing the most banal kinds of entertainment possible at the lowest cost to carry the greatest amount of advertising. The western media in the 20th Century has taken propaganda to such an entirely new level of sophistication and subversiveness that a new word was coined for it: Prop-agenda – the use of propaganda to ensure that only select issues make it into the news, so that the only problems on the public agenda are approved by the state. (Source: urbandictionary.com)

    Which reminds me… the etymology of the word “entrepreneur” is quite interesting. In the original French, the verb “entreprendre” means “to undertake”. What, exactly, does an entrepreneur undertake? The starting of a business? Perhaps, but where does that leave “social entrepreneurs”, like my friends Father Bob Maguire (the founder of Open Family) or John Wood (the founder of the non-profit Room To Read)? Many entrepreneurs start their enterprise with something else in mind other than the desire for profit. They, too, have a higher calling.

    Entrepreneurship isn’t about creating wealth – it’s about creating value. Revenue or even profit may be one of the outputs of the value that is created, and for any initiative to be sustainable it must be profitable, but this isn’t necessarily the primary output. The kind of value that digital media entrepreneurs need to create is the kind of value that only a truly independent media, released from the shackles of a corporate or government mistress, can bring to society – and that is the opportunity for unfettered debate and conversation among a broad segment of the population.

    I know, I know – some of you just threw up a little bit in your mouth. It’s okay – take a small drink. Rinse. I sincerely believe that the internet represents the most wonderful opportunity that the human race has ever had to take control of its future by taking control of its media. There is no longer any reason for “the media” to be owned by a handful of wealthy men and women, faceless corporations or governments. Let’s put an end to prop-agenda.

    Never forget this: the internet is just a tool. It is what we do with it. If we want it to be about vapid celebrity gossip, then it will be. If we want it to be run by the same interests that ran the 20th Century media – a handful of wealthy men – then it will be.

    Or, if we want it to be a tool where the Mob can discuss the issues and challenges facing the human race, devoid of corporate or government influence, a media by the people for the people, a genuine “Fourth Estate”, then it can be.

    All it takes is for a new generation of digital media entrepreneurs to do it.

    It’s time to step up.

    Cameron Reilly is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Podcast Network, an Australian media company, based in Brisbane.

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