Post Launches Site With African American Focus

Frank Ahrens, Washington Post, January 28, 2008

The Washington Post Co. plans to launch a Web magazine today called The Root that aims to be a “Slate for black readers,” according to one of its founders, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Slate, the online magazine founded by Microsoft and purchased by The Post Co. in 2004, offers a mix of news and opinion, arts and sports coverage. The Root will feature news and opinions on black issues in the United States and worldwide and include a genealogy application designed to help black users build their family trees.

The site, which began coming together in October, is the brainchild of Gates and Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham. Gates got to know Graham through several years of joint service on the Pulitzer Prize committee. The Root is a spinoff of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive (WPNI), a wholly owned subsidiary of The Post Co. and the parent of washingtonpost.com.

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Gates has written extensively on black history and genealogy. On Feb. 6, Gates’s “African American Lives 2,” a documentary series using DNA analysis to help trace the ancestry of prominent black Americans such as Chris Rock, will begin on PBS. The Root dovetails with many of Gates’s interests.

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Other prominent blacks have launched news and information sites aimed at black users. Radio star Tom Joyner launched BlackAmericaWeb in 2001 that features news and commentary on issues of interest to black users. Likewise, talk show host Tavis Smiley maintains a Web site, TavisTalks, as a virtual watercooler for black issues. And Ebony and Jet magazines have a common Web site.

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In an interview on Friday, Graham said he expects The Root to lose money initially, “but hopefully not for as many years as Slate.” Slate, founded in 1996, did not experience its first full year of profitability until 2007. The Root has signed up HBO and Coca-Cola as initial sponsors, Weisberg said.

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