Taking Root: A New Web Site Provides Serious News and Commentary-And Genealogy-To the Black Community

By Hadadi, Roxana | American Journalism Review, April-May 2008 | Go to article overview

Taking Root: A New Web Site Provides Serious News and Commentary-And Genealogy-To the Black Community


Hadadi, Roxana, American Journalism Review


Reporter Sam Fulwood III of Cleveland's Plain Dealer knows the journalism business--he got his first job at the Charlotte Observer straight out of college, logged 11 years at the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times and has spent the past seven years at the Plain Dealer, first as a Metro columnist and now as a reporter for the Arts and Life section.

But even after all those years, Fulwood says this is the first time he's ever seen anything like The Root (theroot.com), the Washington Post Co.'s new online magazine targeted toward the black community.

"It's really interesting to see if a black-directed information site can find an audience--especially The Root, which is a serious one that is dealing with serious stuff in a serious way," says Fulwood, who has contributed six articles to the nascent Web site. "That, for me, is the exciting thing about this."

The Root, which launched January 28 as part of Washingtonpost. Newsweek Interactive, offers a variety of national, international and political news and commentary, along with blogs on everything from fashion to food. But, as the site's "About Us" page states, "The Root aims to be an unprecedented departure from traditional American journalism, raising the profile of black voices in mainstream media and engaging anyone interested in black culture around the world."

Subject matter varies widely--from the murder of gay teenager Lawrence King ("Queer, Dead and Nobody Cares," by Kai Wright, February 26) to singer Alicia Keys' similarities to pop music legend Prince ("She'll Take That," by Tracie M. Fellers, February 14).

And politics are a mainstay on the site--a search for 'Obama' on March 18 yielded 191 results, and that day, the site's homepage was inundated with campaign coverage and commentary. Tara Roberts wrote about the reactions she has received from others in the African American community when they learn she's a Clinton supporter in "I'm Black and for Hillary. Get Over it." Professor Michael C. Dawson defended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, by arguing "Wright's blend of leftism and Afro-Centrism remains one of the classic patterns of black political ideology.... The critical views he expresses are all too rooted in the present" in the piece "Is Obama Wrong About Wright?" And on one of The Root's featured blogs, "down from the tower," bloggers Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Marc Lamont Hill traded barbs over what effect, if any, Wright will have on Obama's campaign.

But the online magazine isn't just about news--a special do-it-yourself feature allows readers to trace their genealogy through a family tree-like application. This amalgam of news and genealogy is part of what makes The Root unique, Fulwood says. "I'm not aware of any other online organ that has the sort of dual nature of purpose."

Based in a conference room at the Washington offices of Slate (slate.com), the Washington Post Co.'s online magazine, The Root certainly isn't the biggest operation around. It relies mainly on freelancers as well as the Associated Press for its content, says Managing Editor Lynette Clemetson, who formerly worked at the New York Times.

And aside from Clemetson, The Root has only three staff members: Editor in Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research; Deputy Editor Terence Samuel, a former political reporter at U.S. News & World Report; and Associate Editor Natalie Hopkinson, former assignment editor for the Washington Post's Outlook section. …

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