The man who founded WIRED believes social media doesn't do enough for its audience

NewCo is a festival of innovation and inspiration where mission-driven companies invite you inside their offices to share stories of positive change.
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Picture: NewCo in Sydney, 2016. Supplied.

John Battelle wants the biggest media companies in the world to put their money where their mouth is, and look at more practical ways to influence positive change.

As a founder of WIRED magazine, he knows a thing or two about how media impacts society.

Battelle’s latest initiative, NewCo, is a festival-style conference that gives attendees unprecedented access to the offices of their host companies – which are all hand-picked by the NewCo team for their “purpose-driven business”.

“Purpose is the fulfillment of a [company’s] mission,” Battelle told Business Insider.

“We look to identify great missions at the core of a NewCo. Missions that make the world just a little (or sometimes a lot) better.”

Though NewCo was consciously designed to be optimistic and celebrate companies that are trying to affect “some kind of positive change”, Battelle admits that the lines between encouraging social change and outright influence are blurring. And it’s not always having a positive impact.

“Like it or not we’re placing our bets on companies in trying to figure out how to change the world. Not governments, not religions. Companies can be nimble.”

If Battelle could choose any company as a NewCo host, it would be one of the world’s tech giants.

“I’d love to see a NewCo inside Apple. I very much doubt it will happen though,” Battelle said.

While the “big four” – Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook – are nimble, they are also now being asked to look more seriously at their impact on news and popular culture.

“The struggle of Facebook, Google and Twitter to shoulder this responsibility is the central story of media today,” Battelle says.

Writing on NewCo’s Shift Forum about the recent congressional hearing into social media and advertising’s impact on the 2016 US Election, Battelle said governments have taken too long to realise the tech companies’ power.

“[Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey] warned that our nation’s Internet giants have taken a “quasi-governmental role” in our national dialog. To which I can only ask, where the hell has the government been over the past decade?

“Our public town square is now owned by private institutions. Did you not notice till just now?”

In a separate piece, titled ‘Pretty Sure That Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Google Are Bad’, Battelle looks at Scott Galloway’s new book “The Four”, particularly this passage:

“What is the endgame for this, the greatest concentration of human and financial capital ever assembled? What is their mission? Cure cancer? Eliminate poverty? Explore the universe? No, their goal: to sell another f–king Nissan.”

Battelle notes that while the big four claim to be purpose-driven organisations, their actions reveal monopolistic practices, tax evasion and a complete disregard for “the little guy”.

Their main focus, Battelle believes, should be on “connecting meaningfully with their audiences”.

NewCo comes to Melbourne from November 22-23, hosted by Amazon Web Services, Telstra, REA Group, Vinomofo and more. You can win VIP tickets here, or read more about the festival here.

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