Lynette Clemetson, Managing Editor, The Root.com, came to our Interactive Journalism Class today.
"The Root" is owned by the Washington Post Company....politics, etc from a variety of black perspectives. The web is egalitarian, anyone can come to the root - everyone is welcome to the party, but you should know what you're getting when you come to the Root. I began at the root full time in January.
How did "The Root" happen?
The idea for the site grew out of conversations from Henry Louis Gates and Don Graham, of Washington Post - they're both men who like good-spirited debate. There were a lot of signals on the web that niche publishing was the way to go. Part of the strategy for Post was to experiment in targeted web sites. There was a changing demographic, post -civil rights, highly educated black market. The idea ...was a cool idea, right after launch it became an incredible idea. ....We've done a lot of politics this year, because the year demanded it. You figure out what your audience wants, what they demand.
Here we are this week with President elect Barack Obama. ....understanding how to find your voice and serve your audience...Don't do sports or entertainment....we're not BET or Black Planet....not Tom Joyner....those sites are by and large entertainment sites.
They tried and failed....
Many sites.....tried to emulate print - and didn't succeed. Mentions "Emerge" magazine and "Savoy" both tried to reach new black demographic. The models on the web lean toward entertainment because people were afraid you couldn't sustain serious on the web.
Celebrity and gossip are the way things are going....but we've had nice steady growth for a web site....surveyed readers, wanted more politics, books and health.
Shows us page, "5 Hairdos Obama Shouldn't Have".
We do have some fun.
(here looked at "Election 2008" on Root)
Says European papers wanted to reprint Henry Louis Gates column, "In Our Lifetime", bringing up interesting legal issues.
"Obama's Missing Fur Coat" story was mixing of pop culture and analysis.
Standard news piece - profile on Michele Obama, was Roots take on Michele. How do you bring a web prospective and "Root" prospective. Must understand clearly that you;'re not delivering news and shouldn't try to beat newspapers at their own game.
Quite frankly, if you look at the downturn in the industry, a lot of newspapers and cable channels don't have that many black reporters anymore.
We've benefited from the downturn in the business.
Who and What is "The Root?"
Who is "The Root". We are a start up and are very very small. There are five of us.
We have no reporters - we're an all freelance publication. We have regular writers, freelancers who write for us every week. A lot of our content - somebody e-mails us an interesting idea and we decide to run it. Sometimes we just take a pass because we call up somebody quickly and they can't do it.
"If somebody works for somebody else and has a job, we can only make so many demands. That is a weekly reality."
Most smaller websites do a significant portion of traffic from pushing it out and from those coming in sideways. We do a lot of ours...sideways. Regular readers of TR are a pretty thoughtful bunch. The pieces that you write generated toward your group, can get another response from another type of audience.
Henry Louis Gates column - if its picked up on MSNBC, can get pretty hateful comments. IN the end we decided people know what the web is and you have to foster conversation and have to foster views - it would be out of synch with the web to turn comments off.
I know some websites have a horrible time with this....don't know if we get a more educated readership, but we haven't had any instances yet of true abuse, where you have to ban someone from the site.
People who wander in, get tired, because its not their space, and they just go away. People like to talk to people who are just like themselves....
One of our regular writers....wrote a beautiful piece, and his mother read it, but she didn't get that when she was e-mailing him, that it wasn't a personal email. She didn't know she must posting comments to the entire web universe.
We're an opinion site - its commentary and analysis, so the same rules don't apply as to newspaper sites. Even the analysis comes with a first-person slant - its a website that delivers its content with voice. But there are a lot of reporters with full time jobs who write for us, Charlayne Hunter Gault...but it never crosses into opinion.
More Root: Jack White piece - "A Thank You Note to White Voters"
When people come to a site like ours, they want honest talk about what we are feeling. We debate, we don't rant. If someone sends in something that's a long screed, with no grain of argument, we'll pass.