Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Media Entrepreneurs: Missionaries or Merchants?

As part of my ongoing research project on media entrepreneurship, my friend Ben Compaine and I started interviewing media entrepreneurs over a year ago. (That's how I found Bear Cahill, profiled in a previous post.) In analyzing the interview transcripts, we noticed two distinct types of media entrepreneur. One group shared the mindset common to all entrepreneurs; we labeled them merchants. The other group, however, didn't seem to fit -- they hardly seemed like entrepreneurs at all, except that they had started or were in the process of starting a media business. They talked about their reluctance in starting a business. Diving into entrepreneurship seemed, to this group, a last resort because no one else would do it. "It" was a message or mission to carry out. That group we called the missionaries. Ben recalled Ted Peterson's 1964 history of the magazine business in which he described new leaders ("new" referring to 1900 to 1940) as missionaries or merchants. The appeal of alliteration aside, the terms perfectly capture the archetypes we saw emerging. Here's my graphic depicting a continuum, from a pure merchant to missionary to a group we call "citizen-mediamakers,"whom we distinguish from missionaries in that they are not monetizing their media.

Why does it matter that there are two kinds of media entrepreneur? We believe this kind of entrepreneur may be unique to media industries. From a public policy standpoint, there are millions of potential media missionaries out there who should be encouraged to start a media enterprise. Then we'd have tremendous diversity in viewpoints and we could all stop worrying about media concentration.