How The Skimm founders are inspiring Millennials to get out and vote

The Skimm co-founders: Millennials are looking for a trusted news source
The Skimm co-founders: Millennials are looking for a trusted news source

When Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin first launched their daily email newsletter, The Skimm, they wanted to help Millennial readers stay on top of current events. But they soon sought to do much more.

In 2016, the two co-CEOs launched the No Excuses campaign aimed at motivating Millennials to get out and vote for the issues they care about most.

"In many ways, we are a translator and what we do is, we make it easier to understand the world around you," Zakin tells CNN's Poppy Harlow in the latest episode of Boss Files. "We felt like we had a responsibility to make sure that we were, in our audience's minds, a trusted source... We were giving them the information, but letting them make up their mind as to how that affected their vote."

To get the No Excuse campaign off the ground, The Skimm partnered with the nonpartisan, nonprofit Rock the Vote and leveraged its base of more than six million subscribers. That helped get more than 110,000 people registered to vote -- 95,000 of which were women -- in the months leading up to the election.

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"The idea was that there is no excuse not to register and not to vote, and that became really a marketing platform we've since built upon," says Zakin.

No Excuses first focused on the 2016 presidential election, and now extends to issues ranging from immigration and health care to the economy and criminal justice reform. Next up: The 2018 midterm elections, during which The Skimm's co-CEOs hope to get 100,000 young people to show up at the polls and vote. They have tapped politicians from both sides of the aisle to help them out, including airing YouTube video campaigns featuring Nancy Pelosi, Ted Cruz and James Comey.

Former NBC producers, Zakin and Weisberg launched The Skimm out of their New York City apartment in 2012.

The two learned a lot about their readers as they navigated the heated 2016 elections.

"One consistent theme that we heard [in 2016] is that for a big part of our audience, we are one thing that they read or one source that they get their news from," Weisberg says.

"But also, for a sizable part of our audience... we are their primary source of news. if they felt like we were being partisan on either side, then they were unsubscribing. They were turning to Facebook to get their news. Or they were turning to sites that we did not deem reputable," says Weisberg.

The Skimm co-founders

For this reason, Zakin says The Skimm strives to stay "as neutral as possible."

"We are a company that stands for informing people, empowering them and leading them to make their own better-informed decisions," Zakin says.

Millennials will surpass Baby Boomers next year as the largest generation of Americans eligible to vote. Yet while Millennials represent nearly one-third of all eligible voters, only half of them actually show up to the polls.

"One of the biggest misconceptions about Millennials as a whole is that they all vote the same way and they all think the same way and they obviously don't," Zakin says.

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The Skimm's own research shows that Millennials are really split down the middle politically.

"We were reading all the polls out there that said that the election was going to go a different way. But we were doing our own studies that actually predicted how the election did turn out," Zakin says.

Weisberg and Zakin are clear their newsletter is for all Americans, not just those living on the coasts or inside the Beltway.

The Skimm co-founders: We are a gateway drug to news
The Skimm co-founders: We are a gateway drug to news

"One of the things that we are proudest of is actually how geographically diverse our audience is," says Zakin. "We are huge in the Midwest and the South. We are in all 50 states. We're in over 100 countries."

Critics of The Skimm point to the newsletter's conversational tone and use of millennial lingo and say it's patronizing to its predominantly female reader base. Some argue that the newsletter waters down important events and assumes its readers have no prior knowledge of current affairs.

"We have a very specific and unique voice that is not for everyone. There is totally a sense of humor in how we approach what we do every day. We clear the weeds around you," Zakin says. "If we can make it easier for you to remember that headline, to understand the gravitas around a story... we're not apologizing for that."

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