Why Kicker?

A Letter From Our Founder

A couple of years ago I was on the subway, about to start the Sunday crossword in the New York Times Magazine. Just then a guy about 20 years old standing near me leaned over and joked, "Making a lot of progress there, huh?" Then he asked which publication the puzzle was in, and he looked confused when I told him.

"Uh, isn't The New York Times a newspaper?" he asked. Yes, I said, but they have a magazine that comes with the paper on Sundays.

"They do? How long have they had that?" Oh, about 100 years!, I said. He was really surprised to hear that, and we started talking about other newsmagazines. He was pretty confused by those too – he asked, for example, what the difference was between New York Magazine and The New Yorker. I tried to explain.

He was obviously bright and curious and clever, yet unfamiliar with news publications. I had to ask: Did he follow the news at all? He said, “Nah, not really.”

I asked him why, as he was clearly interested in the world – interested enough to strike up a conversation about news on the New York City subway (taboo!) with a woman twice his age. He said, "There's just too much to follow, so many stories, and so much of it is confusing. … I need something that just tells me what I really need to know, it in a way that makes sense to me."

That's when the train pulled into his stop. With a little wave, he headed off into the city.

For a second, I suspected a friend playing a trick on me had hired this guy to say these things to me. Because for months I'd been obsessed with the idea of creating exactly what he'd described: A source for young adults that explained what they really need to know, in a way that appeals to them.

At the time, I was an editor for a New York Times blog that helped teachers use the paper in the classroom. Before that, I was a high school English and journalism teacher and student newspaper adviser. For years, I'd been all about young people and news. I loved empowering young people with knowledge about the world and the means to voice their views. It sounds corny, but it felt like my calling.

But I'd started to feel unsatisfied about going through teachers to reach young people with current events. Why not just reach out to young people directly? And hey, when it comes to the high school and college and grad school population, why should news be part of school, anyway? It bothered me that I was helping to send the message that news goes in the "homework" category, like math problems and thesis statements, not in the "life" category, along with TV and movies and gaming and fashion.

It also drove me nuts when newsmedia mocked young people for not knowing certain things, like who Osama bin Laden was, as if all adults know everything all the time.

I'd been thinking about this (a lot), and talking to my friends about it (a lot), when I bumped into this chatty guy on the train. It suddenly felt really clear to me that there was a real audience out there for what I'd been dreaming about. I wanted to help this guy and his friends and everyone out there like them get in the know.

He seemed to want an on ramp, a starting point, for the universe of news. And he clearly craved background knowledge and context when something big happened. He wanted an oasis amid the swirling oceans of information. He seemed already to realize that what gets called "news" can actually be super fascinating and useful and relevant -- it’s just not always presented that way. And he struck me as the type who didn’t want to have to go to Google every time he wanted to somehow get involved with an issue or event he read about.

I wanted to give him -- and everyone like him -- all of that.

Not long after, I quit my job at The Times and started developing this idea further. After tons and tons of research and brainstorming, I decided to focus on these five things:

  • Voice: Making stories easy, engaging, and even fun to read.
  • Helpfulness: Providing helpful background info and context to eliminate confusion.
  • Relevance: Explaining how and why big events are relevant and why they matter.
  • Digestibility: Telling just a few stories a day – the most important things to know – instead of endless links and updates.
  • Empowerment: Suggesting concrete ways to take action on every single story, like signing petitions, joining social media campaigns, volunteering, and donating.

I started finding some smart, talented freelancers who were psyched about the idea too and wanted to be part of it. Amazingly, just over four months after I quit, Kicker was born, with tons of passion, purpose, and excitement.

There's still so much I want to do with Kicker to help empower young people with knowledge about the world. I'm working incredibly hard every day to make it a more effective resource for getting informed and taking action. I really hope that guy on the train finds Kicker, and I hope he likes it. And I'm glad you found it and hope you like it too.