[Note: This is the first of a weekly series, if your company is doing something amazing to help a charitable cause or doing some good in your community, please reach out.]
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…Newark, New Jersey Mayor, Cory Booker. You might have heard a story or two about the United States’ most famous mayor, be it from our own Disrupt conference, BuzzFeed, Twitter and pretty much everywhere else you turn. There’s a reason for that: Booker has completely embraced the Internet, dealt with its flaws and accentuated the positives, in hopes of making a true difference in the world.
He’s been quite successful. Booker isn’t just an online superhero, he’s an offline one, too. The man ran into a burning building once to help someone get out safely, which is pretty impressive. In addition to being the Newark’s mayor, Booker co-founded #waywire, a startup trying to connect people around video on topics that are impactful to society.
It’s important for Booker to be able to connect to people on a personal level, and I had the chance to interview him for my first weekly installment of “The Weekly Good.” For my first question, Booker decided to answer the best way he knows how, via video. If you’ve never met him or witnessed him speak, it’s a great introduction before you move on to the rest of our talk.
TechCrunch: When did you get started in politics and when did you decide to dedicate your life and career to serving the public?
TechCrunch: When did you first learn about Twitter? Did you see an opportunity to connect with folks immediately or did it take time?
Cory Booker: I learned about Twitter in April of 2009 when [#waywire co-founder] Sarah Ross reached out to me to encourage my use of the network. The social web was growing voraciously then, and I could immediately sense the potential to organize and communicate in new ways. It took about six months to scale an audience of critical mass across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, and then they immediately connected me more directly to the residents of Newark, providing a new channel to inform, connect and respond. That is one of the reasons I knew it was so important that we create a service like #waywire. This new generation of adults does not communicate the way their parents did, and they are much harder to reach.
TechCrunch: What are some of your favorite moments from your time spent on Twitter? You tweet a lot, which, especially during tough times like Hurricane Sandy, is important.
Cory Booker: Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have been extremely effective in helping us manage a number of crisis situations — snowstorms, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, and the nor’easter that followed. I hope that #waywire joins their ranks soon in its own way. But even day-to-day, social media provides us with a mechanism to canvass Newark, identifying and responding to needs resident by resident.
Social media, also, has been tremendous in elevating awareness of, and essentially rebranding, Newark. Having the ability to directly take on criticism from people like Conan O’Brien through YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, has helped to reframe the public narrative surrounding our city. We have shown the grace, fortitude and brilliance of our community through our stories. It is extraordinary to live in a time where a mayor of a mid-size American city has the ability – through technology – to share those stories with millions of people all over the world.
TechCrunch: What other services, besides #waywire, are you using to connect with people, especially youth?
Cory Booker: We are very focused on #waywire right now. We created #waywire to more directly reach young people. Younger generations are video literate in ways my generation is still learning to understand. Creating new systems to elevate the global conversation is critical at this juncture of social media evolution. Now that people are connected more directly and deeply than ever before, it is our responsibility to help disseminate content that equally informs as well as inspires. I am also engaging on Instagram and Foursquare.
TechCrunch: How is #waywire coming along?
Cory Booker: My co-founders have done an incredible job building a smart, extremely talented team, and I am very proud of where we are with #waywire. The network is now about two months old, and still in alpha. But we are seeing more than 100 percent growth month-to-month already. We have an incredible technology team of recent college grads from top engineering schools who are envisioning the next generation of the social web. Already #waywire is a meaningful video curation network where our audience also creates, discovers and shares the video that matters most to them. #waywire was named the official video hub of both the #KONY2012 movement’s follow-on effort in Washington D.C. last week, and the #IAmMalala campaign of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. Having former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah think so highly of our very young company was really humbling. With #waywire, audiences are empowered to dig into issues, movements and information that go much deeper than 140 characters.
We are also moving quickly on the original programming front. Both Dan Rather and Sarah Brown have guest-hosted our #TweetTap program, and we have produced two original documentaries. They first followed Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock — the youngest Congressman serving in the House — as he represented the Romney campaign during the Republican National Convention and then me as I represented the Obama campaign at the Democratic National Convention. Our more recent documentary focused on the Reddit bus tour during the campaign – where we had a correspondent embedded with that tour of middle America, advocating for Internet freedom. All of our original content is produced from the Millennial point of view, by producers and editors and correspondents who come from the demographic.
I encourage everyone who sets up their own wire at www.waywire.com to follow me.
TechCrunch: What charities and causes are you personally passionate about? What more could people be doing to raise awareness and help out?
Cory Booker: There are so many great charities doing amazing work everyday. I am constantly inspired by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Newark Now, G.I. Go Fund, Fathers Now, the marriage equality movement, public libraries, national education reform movement and many others. The tech community should be recognized for everything it is doing and building to advance social good.
On a personal note, I want to thank Jeff Weiner and Reid Hoffman who stepped in to support Covenant House during Hurricane Sandy. Their efforts helped a population of homeless teens in dire need of shelter, food and support during the storm.
Having spent some personal time with Mayor Booker in the past, I can safely say that he’s one of the good ones. He cares deeply about his community, education, safety of others and the importance of holding yourself to a higher standard. If you depend on others to be your moral compass, you might end up letting yourself, and others, down. Mayor Booker is a perfect example of a family man who wants to help others.
No matter what you think about “politics,” you can agree that none of what he stands for is a bad thing.