#waywire, Cory Booker’s Personalized News Startup, Uses Video To Give Youth A Voice

“There’s an oligarchy in the media and that needs to be broken up” Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker tells me. So he’s building #waywire, a news site that features original and syndicated video content, but that also lets viewers record and share their responses. “Traditional news sources aren’t in any way talking to millennials” Booker says, so #waywire is designed to deliver them content from their perspective. It’s now taking registrations for its upcoming private beta.

#waywire want to challenge old media outlets like CNN, but also create a news discovery alternative to Facebook and Twitter. It’s bold ambition convinced First Round Capital, Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, Lady Gaga’s manager Troy Carter and other angels to fund #waywire’s $1.75 million seed round. And the startup has told TechCrunch that Oprah Winfrey and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner are investors too.

Booker believes “There are practical solution to [creating] more jobs, lower crime, better education. If more people could find their voice and be part of the national dialogue, we could solve these problems.”

As the mayor New Jersey’s largest city, once named “The Most Dangerous City In The Nation” by Time, Booker is no stranger to big problems. Nor is he a stranger to innovative solutions, as the steward of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark’s public school system.

To make his idea for #waywire a reality, Booker has recruited some co-founders with deep digital experience. including TechCrunch’s own former CMO Sarah Ross whose also worked with Katalyst Media and Yahoo. Nathan Richardson, former president of Gilt City, CEO of ContextNext Media, and head of Dow Jones online will be #waywire’s CEO.

When it eventually launches, #waywire will pull in data from your social sites like Facebook and Twitter to help you build a personalized newswire of topics you care about. #waywire plans to start by creating 10,000 minutes of original video content hosted by all-millenial newscasters, which will be combined with clips syndicated from established outlets.

While the company has yet to release any screenshots, Richardson tells me these pieces of professional content will appear flanked by video responses from the #waywire community and your networks. You’ll be able to shoot video responses to offer up your own opinion, and then share the news and your rebuttals to social networks, making #waywire inherently viral. Plus, there’s a badge and reward system that lets aspiring anchors and editors become part of a trusted set of curators who determine which content is highlighted on #waywire.

Richardson gave me an example of the content you’ll see on #waywire. “Say I see this post from a traditional media source on something like healthcare, but don’t understand what it means to me. {On #waywire I’d get] a millennial point of view. ‘Oh, you just graduated and can be on your parent’s healthcare plan until you’re 26. You just scored.'” You can see a promo video explaining the need for the product here.

As a voracious but busy news reader, I worried that video which can’t be scanned like text might make #waywire difficult to quickly browse. Richardson assured me, though, that there will be written summaries beside official clips to help you deciding whether to watch.

And if you’re scratching your head about why the medium is so critical, you might be older than #waywire’s target audience, the YouTube generation who are growing up with video as a format for creation, not just consumption. “All the research shows millenials want more video content” the startup’s CEO tells me. The fact that the startups name is a hashtag should indicate just how serious it is about courting young digerati.

Still, turning #waywire popular enough to change the world will be no easy task. Millenials are already saturated with stimulation. Facebook and Twitter have built brilliant mouse traps for attention, and their text and photo-focused inputs erect smaller barriers to participation than webcams and video. #waywire’s content is inherently sharable, though, so if it reaches critical mass as a news discovery tool, links to it could be pumped out across the social web.

And thankfully, Mayor Cory Booker is relentlessly inspirational. He tells me “Right now, we don’t have enough voices in the national dialogue, and it’s causing slowness in the pace of change. I want people to raise their voice, find something they’re passionate about. With that spirit we’ll see a country that moves further and faster down the pathway of change.”

Sign up for early access to #waywire’s private beta