Cory Booker can do a lot of things. He rescues women from burning buildings, shovels cities out of blizzards, and compromises with Republicans to save New Jersey – and usually in 140 characters or less. But no matter how tech savvy he is, he cannot pretend to be a Millennial. The social media-addict mayor announced this week in a press release that he will be partnering with some high powered names (like Oprah, Eric Schmidt, Nathan Richardson, and Sarah Ross) to launch a crowd-sourced collaborative news site called #waywire dedicated to giving the largest and most diverse generation a voice in the news. Kudos to the founders for recognizing that millennials have a voice (and that we like to use hashtags.) The problem is that the organization is for millennials, but not founded and led by millennials.
With applauds across the Internet, Mayor Booker has once again grasped the attention of the country as a real life and digital Superman.
Except here's the thing. Look up just below your toolbar. Millennial news sites already exist. Better yet, they were started by millennials. Now I'm not saying that this news site won't be different, possibly fancier and even more popular than this one or other ones (especially given the media hype.) Instead, my criticism is in the strategy behind launching this news site.
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 (like PolicyMic) that give millennial voices an outlet. And guess what? They were started by actual, real-life millennials and without parental supervision.
The problem I see here is very similar to a problem in the nonprofit world (that's my 'hood). Often celebrities launch and lend their names and sometimes dollars to new nonprofits dedicated to some newsworthy cause getting countless attention, and in turn, donor support. Except, there are usually similar existing organizations, run by experienced experts in those fields who have been working diligently to sustain themselves. When celebs launch nonprofits, money, attention, and employees are often pulled from existing orgs, which can ultimately jeopardize their livelihood.
Instead, why aren't these celebs lending their support and resources to existing credible nonprofits who are already doing great work? Why reinvent the wheel because you don't just want to be an advocate, but want your name on something? Vanity organizations may raise awareness, but are often not sustainable.
What is the problem that #waywire is trying to solve? That millennials don't have a place where their voices are being heard? (Have they been on the Internet in the past ten years?) Or do they think our voices are not being heard by other generations, and that as ambassadors of their generations, they will offer us up to the rest of the world and mainstream media via the internet (where we all seem to already congregate?) If they wanted us to be heard more, why don't they invite us into the mainstream media more – outside of the confines of the limitless millennial-saturated internet, where other generations can actually hear our voices?
If Booker et al. want to solve this problem, why not use their incubator to give bright millennial entrepreneurs the tools to build their own model that speaks to and empowers their own generation? I have no doubt they will recruit brilliant young minds to run this org – but again – why reinvent the wheel?
I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Above all, we should be pleased that there are leaders and rich people who are advocating on behalf of our generation. I do challenge these power players to invite millennials up to the podium with them as they fight for us. And I challenge you millennial readers to own your personal power. We do not need another generation to create an outlet that gives us power. We are the largest generation in the history of humankind. We have as much power on our own, and with it comes responsibility, we can speak, we can create, we can organize, and we can build. We are, in fact, the natives in this digital world. Let's start owning our land.