When we think of entrepreneurs, we picture startups in garages and business launched in college dorm rooms. We don’t picture government offices, and city hall definitely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind — but that might be changing.
Look to City Hall in Newark, New Jersey and you’ll find Mayor Cory Booker launching an ambitious startup. Mayor Booker, often called the “most prolific ‘tweeter’ in American politics”, is creating his own media site to encourage millennials (those of us with birthdays between the mid 1980s and the mid 2000s) to speak up about political and social issues. Brooker represents a new type of government official: part bureaucrat and part social entrepreneur . A zealous fan of Silicon Valley’s startup scene, he’s recruited experts and top notch technology gurus for his social video project called #waywire (hashtag always included ! )
The site, a video-hosting and sharing platform, will aggregate news content, social media conversations, and host original #waywire syndicated video content. The Mayor plans to contribute original content discussing America’s most significant challenges with thought leaders from an array of backgrounds. So far so normal, but #waywire goes one step further by letting viewers record and share their responses to stories featured on the site, and then share the news and rebuttals to social networks, making #waywire “inherently viral”.
“Traditional news sources aren’t in any way talking to millennials” Booker told TechCrunch, “so #waywire is designed to deliver them content from their perspective.” The aim is to energize and engage the younger generation around news and information they care about, offering new perspectives and peer-generated content “in ways that traditional forms of media are not currently tapping into.”
An example of the type of content a user would be able to find on #waywire is the perspective of peers on policy items such as healthcare reform. While CNN might tell you what the Affordable Care Act means for consumers, #waywire will explain what the policy changes mean for you — for example how youth can be on their parents’ healthcare plan until age 26!
Booker’s ambitious plan has resonated with some big-shot investors, and the energy has helped to recruit co-founders for the new company: Nathan Richardson, former president of Gilt City and CEO of ContextNext Media, and Sarah Ross, TechCrunch’s former chief marketing officer. Funding has been secured from First Round Capital, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Lady Gaga’s manager Troy Carter, Oprah Winfrey and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.
Booker says “there are practical solutions to [create] more jobs, lower crime, better education” and “if more people could find their voice and be part of the national dialogue, we could solve these problems.” The issue with the status quo is credibility:
millennials want to see news and information coming not only from trusted news sources, they also want to see opinions, ideas, and values that other people have about [that news and information].
According to a recent University of Chicago survey on youth and participatory politics, teens say they consume news through participatory channels and the majority believe they would benefit from learning how to judge the credibility of what they find online. The study also revealed that:
- 45 percent of young people reported getting news at least once a week from family and friends via Twitter or Facebook feeds, which rivals the 49 percent who reported getting news at least once in the past week from newspapers or magazines.
- 84 percent of respondents answered “yes”, when asked, “Do you think people like you and your friends would benefit from learning more about how to tell if news and information you find online is trustworthy?”
Yes, young people should learn how to assess and contextualize the online information they’re using to participate in the political arena, but is CNN and the New York times totally irrelevant to Generation Y? “It seems silly to segregate ourselves as a generation away from everyone else on the internet” commented one “millennial”.
Another criticism of the project itself comes from PolicyMic blogger Nomiki Konst who asks: If millennials need an outlet, then why aren’t they the ones creating it?
Why do millennials need to be saved by non-millennials? Our generation’s unique greatness is in part due to our self-starting, self-sufficient, entrepreneurial spirit. There are dozens of millennials who have launched crowd-sourced news sites that give millennial voices an outlet. And guess what? They were started by actual, real-life millennials and without parental supervision.
Will #waywire gain the kind of traction Booker is hoping for? And what kind of videos will teens be likely to post? The answer depends on how helpful users think video content is, compared to traditional printed news. “In the world of aggregation, few outlets have had…much success… but a site dedicated to video promises unique challenges”, points out Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at CUNY and author of Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live. Jarvis says that “typical aggregation is based largely on topical keywords, whereas video is much harder to categorize and therefore search.”
Driving traffic to #waywire isn’t just for the “social good”, of course. It’s still like any other media site in that it is primarily driven by ad revenues. Co-founder Nathan Richardson tells Fast Company that he expects the company’s “focus on social good won’t detract from #waywire’s profit potential. Instead…it will actually be a selling point with the site’s target market. Millennials are driven by being associated with businesses that are in business for good.”
Trying to engage youth in politics isn’t a new problem — the Millennial Generation is large and diverse, making up nearly 25% of the entire electorate in 2012. Votizen and Votifi are other startups trying to increase public engagement in politics, but perhaps #waywire’s focus on a specific target audience will prove to be a successful platform for meaningful youth communication. The good news is that while #waywire is set to launch into private beta in a few months, Booker won’t be leaving his day job as Newark Mayor. Serving as an adviser to the #waywire team, Booker will have plenty of time to spend Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million grant fixing the public school system.
- Here’s why you need to pay attention to Cory Booker’s new startup #waywire (thenextweb.com)
- Startup courts Millennials with social, crowdsourced news site (news.cnet.com)
- Cory Booker, Internet’s Favorite Mayor, Creates Media Site for Teens (mashable.com)
- Facebook and Newark Schools: About the $100 Million (businessweek.com)