WASHINGTON, DISTRICT of COLUMBIA — Founded in 2008, The Root continues a long tradition of black-perspective journalism in America, reporting on social, cultural, and political issues through an African American lens. With the Quincy Jones-founded Vibe folding in 2009 before its rebirth as a quarterly, and Essence and others toughing it out in a shrinking magazine market, there’s been a notable gap in publications tailored to black audiences. The Root’s goal is to raise the profile of the black voice in mainstream media once again. To that end, the website features original reporting on everything from Oprah Winfrey to charter schools, along with reports from Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe.
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The for-profit website was founded in 2008 by Donald Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Company, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard—you might remember him from the “Beer Summit” of 2009. The founders saw a white-dominated online media that needed an injection of diversity. Since its founding, The Root has built a loyal audience of highly educated, mostly African American, readers happy to share their insights. Comments are typically thoughtful; not a lot of mud-slinging here.
As part of The Slate Group, The Root is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with a satellite office in New York City. Six editors manage a group of more than twenty freelancers, and that number’s growing. The Root is happy to accept submissions, and boasts of featuring one new writer on the site every week.
Like other sites in the group, The Root is stuffed full of multimedia content. There’s the standard stuff—a weekly podcast and original videos—but the standout feature is an interactive section that allows readers to build and map their own family tree, and which provides an opportunity for readers to participate in genealogy tests through AfricanDNA.com. Within the next year, The Root, which is built on Drupal, will be transitioning to a new platform, and hopes to expand its multimedia features.
Shrewdly, the site also features an eyeball-snatching feature called “The Root 100,” which profiles young emerging leaders in the black community. Writers and readers submit nominations for the list, and this year’s winners hailed from all sectors, including academia, entertainment, and business; think folks like lauded songstress Janelle Monáe, basketball player LeBron James, and author and pundit Wes Moore. And, as befits a modern startup, there’s the odd event to attend. One such shimmery occasion was the recent “Young, Female, and Fabulous,” where a panel of successful and prominent young women discussed issues women typically face in the work place.
Another perk of being part of The Slate Group is that The Root has the support of the Slate’s sales team, a key component in the website’s sustainability. Thus, The Root has enviably been able to attract a multitude of blue chip advertisers including American Airlines, HSBC, and Starbucks.
The Root Data
Name: The Root
City: Washington, D.C., with a secondary office in New York, N.Y.
Principal Staff: Henry Louis Gates Jr, editor-in-chief; Donna Byrd, publisher.
Affiliations: The Slate Group; The Washington Post Company.