New Black-Focused Web Site Devoted to Genealogy The Washington Post and Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., have just launched The Root. The online magazine, aimed at blacks, offers a wide lens on the news and offers readers tips on "do-it-yourself" genealogical research.
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New Black-Focused Web Site Devoted to Genealogy

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New Black-Focused Web Site Devoted to Genealogy

New Black-Focused Web Site Devoted to Genealogy

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Family trees, family reunions, and in this day and age, DNA ancestry test. They're all a part of a growing fascination with genealogy.

Now, a new online magazine called The Root is adding a genealogical spin to the coverage of black culture. The Root comes from a collaboration between the Washington Post and editor and chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University.

Lynette Clemetson is the managing editor of The Root and she's been a Washington reporter for the New York Times, plus a correspondent for Newsweek.

Lynette, how are you doing?

Ms. LYNETTE CLEMETSON (Managing Editor, The Root Magazine): I'm great. Thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: Well, we're glad to have you on. And your site describes The Root as a magazine that - this is your words - provides thought-provoking commentary on today's news from a variety of black perspectives.

So what makes your magazine different within that universe of magazines, online and offline, that target African-Americans?

Ms. CLEMETSON: Well, I, you know, I think that what we hope to do is to fill a space that starts not from an entertainment perspective, but from a politics, cultural issues, social policy perspective. I think there are a lot of great magazines, online magazines that target African-Americans and larger black audiences internationally.

But many of them, though they include news, start from entertainment base. And so if you look at a magazine like Slate, which provides an edgy take, interesting voices on current political and social issues, there really isn't much online that's directed to the black audience that comes from that approach.

And so I think editorially, we are trying to fill that space. In one way to put it - I was trying to just explain it to someone. I was driving in my car one day in rush hour traffic and listening to NPR and switching back and forth between NPR and "The Tom Joyner Show."

And as I listened to the content in both places - both of which were interesting to me - what I felt like, you know, where The Root fits is right in between those two places. It speaks to people who would listen to both of those things, be interested in both of those platforms, and sort of tries to bring them together in an interesting way and with new and different voices and perspective.

CHIDEYA: You mentioned Slate, which is one of the - it's in the corporate umbrella that you are. And there's also - Henry Louis Gates Jr., he is obviously an academic superstar and a media superstar. He's played a major role in this organization and in popularizing genealogical research.

But how does the magazine try to bring together the news part with the genealogy part, where you have, actually, links to

Ms. CLEMETSON: Right. The two parts of the site - the site now has two core missions - the magazine and the tools-based part of the site, which is The Root's part of the site. And where it makes sense, there will be a crossover between those two functions. There's an essay that we've got coming in today from someone who's well known, who's doing an essay on researching her family history.

And it's in written form, so it'll run in the magazine. And so that is a direct connection to The Root's part of the site. But I don't think we'll always force the two things to be connected. What I would hope is that people who come to the site for - maybe if we have political junkies who are coming to the site tomorrow to see what our take is on Super Tuesday, that they would come to the site, read a good article and then maybe jump over and try to start building their family tree by the same token.

I hope that there would be people who would come to the site, interested in building their family tree or learning how to start family research, who then would see an interesting article that they might not have thought they would read otherwise and dabble. And that there will be cross pollination between the two missions of the site that, you know, will make for some interesting dialogue and interesting experience for users.

CHIDEYA: Now, you've been careful to point out that when appropriate, you're going to make these links. But Professor Gates co-owns part of Do you see any ethical problems with your site steering people to his business specifically?

Ms. CLEMETSON: I don't, actually, at all, because we don't simply steer people to, and there's full disclosure on the site that he's a co-founder of

But if you - if someone comes to the site and they click into the tab that - for DNA testing, they'll see several different places that they can go to to test their DNA, with links to those different companies. Actually, the option to link those different companies are actually presented to you before you click through to

So I actually don't see a conflict. I think if there were something that we were trying to be cagey about, then of course it would be a problem. But it's a very straightforward approach, and I think that we just want people using - we want people experimenting with the platform in learning about their history. Whatever will you get there is up to the user.

CHIDEYA: Briefly, you have some innovative sections. One of them is call and response. And you had, recently - one of our contributors, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, come on and debate issues. Do you like the idea of bringing people together in debate as well as in these other forms of traditional narrative?

Ms. CLEMETSON: Absolutely. And the blog that you refer to with Melissa Harris-Lacewell is a blog called Down from the Tower, and it's an ongoing discussion between Melissa and Marc Lamont Hill, who is a professor at Temple. And so, one day, you might click on, and Melissa will have the call and Marc will have the response. One day, he may toss out a question to her. He'll have the call and she'll have the response. And it's a very lively - up to now, it has been a political discussion. But they may take on other things. Politics seems to be dominating the moment.

But I do hope that the site evolves into one where our writers are talking to one another and talking to the Web and to communities that live outside The Root, bringing new information and ideas and, you know, creating a vibrant marketplace for idea.

And I also think one of the things that I like about - I'm glad you pointed out the exchange between Melissa and Marc, because it is debate and it is thoughtful, weighty, witty debate. And it's not…

CHIDEYA: All right.

Ms. CLEMETSON: …punditry, it's not ranting, it's not…

CHIDEYA: Lynette, we have to stop there, but I'm sure you'll have a lot more. Thanks so much. We've been speaking with Lynette Clemetson, managing editor of the new online magazine The Root.

And that's our show for today. You can always find out more at or our blog site NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Tomorrow, the results of Super Tuesday.

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