By David Giambusso
June 30, 2012
NEWARK — Being the mayor of Twitter was not enough.
Now Newark Mayor Cory Booker is launching his own social media news site and he’s got some of online media’s biggest players in his corner.
Over the next few weeks, “#waywire” — a news aggregation site geared toward the millenial generation — will test out its beta version, potentially taking Booker from his role as a media darling to one as a media mogul.
But the move is already arousing skepticism from local leaders, who say the mayor’s time should be focused back home. Booker, who will not have a role in the day-to-day operations, and whose interest in the company will be held in a trust, said #waywire will not distract from his role as mayor, but will help bring issues that matter to Newarkers to the fore.
“I’ve always been very compelled about the democratizing force in social media that is getting more voices engaged in the larger dialogue,” Booker said by phone, billing the new site as a “way for people to consume information, ideas and media, but more importantly also to let their own voices be heard, engage in a different way.”
With $1.75 million in start-up money from First Round Capital and Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s “Innovation Fund,” #waywire will have a small staff of about ten editors, curating and aggregating video content from online news sources.
But Booker and co-founders Nathan Richardson and Sarah Ross say the bulk of #waywire’s content will come from users.
“The best way to think about it is a media platform for millenials,” Richardson said referring to the roughly 77 million Americans born after 1980. “It’s a network where they can contribute videos and they can discover videos.”
Richardson, who has led internet giants like Dow Jones online and Yahoo! Finance, will act as the CEO of #waywire. He said the site will cater to the way a younger generation consumes news and information.
“One of the big things that we feel is missing for millenials is the ability to contextualize news and information that matters to them,” Richardson said.
The site will be geared toward topics specific to each user’s interest. If a user defines an interest in, say, city politics, they will contribute their own videos, see videos from friends, and be exposed to videos from more established media outlets.
As the site grows, Richardson said contributors will develop their own status as trustworthy or relevant. Users will also find their content tailored to their interest.
“It’s going to be a bit of technology and a bit of human intervention,” Richardson said to describe how the site will evolve.
Like most social media applications it’s nearly impossible even for its founders to predict exactly how the site will develop and what it will become.
But Booker said the idea, born from a 2009 lunch meeting at Newark’s Andros Diner, was born from a desire to raise the level of public debate.
“If we can find a way to empower people to talk about their issues, ideas and passions that they’re concerned about, then we can find a way to further advance change,” Booker said.
Booker said while he will be a board member, his stake in the company will be in a trust, held by former Gov. Tom Kean and he will not play a role in directing content.
“Yeah right, I believe that,” said Newark Councilman Ron Rice, expressing deep skepticism for the idea. “This is going to be ridiculous.”
Booker is often tagged with a reputation as an absentee mayor and Rice said Booker’s foray into the media world comes at a bad time for Newark.
“We don’t have a realistic plan to deal with our water; we don’t have a realistic plan to deal with quality of life issues; we don’t have a realistic plan to deal with job creation,” Rice said. “I’m a part-time councilman and I don’t have enough time in the day to do it.”
Booker insisted the new site will not distract from his duties as mayor.
“I have a 24-7, relentless job,” he said. “I don’t have time to run a company.”