The Black Slate: The Root of Controversy or Opportunity

How Will the Black Market Respond to

By Published on .

Carol Watson Carol Watson
In the eye of the Obama storm of excitement and debate this past week, The Washington Post Co., hoping to mirror its success with, announced a new online magazine to "expand it's online audience." Called The Root, it targets the African-American audience and will be headed by writer Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is also a professor of African and African-American studies at Harvard.

According to the The New York Times, "The Root will feature news, commentary, art, and sports coverage, but with a focus on black issues and work by acclaimed black writers. The magazine they describe could be seen as a more highbrow, political alternative to established magazines like Ebony and sites like and

"The goal," Gates said, is to provide a forum "as diverse as the black barber shop or black beauty parlor."

The new online magazine actually received an additional plug on the Sunday morning talk shows as the talking heads debated the South Carolina wins and what they mean.

The Root stands as an example of the "damned if you do and damned if you don't" risk some media companies take when launching products to target specific audiences, particularly black consumers. If a media company creates a separate stream of content for a particular group is it simply responding to the needs and interests of a consumer or is it insinuating that the group isn't reading the primary property. In this case, a number of commentators on the Huffington Post have wondered if The Washington Post is basically admitting (or implying) that blacks don't read The Washington Post or Slate (which isn't the case).

Of course, it all boils down to business and making money for the media company. And if a business can do that while providing a space and voice where not enough information and content existed previously, then all the better. The Washington market has long been a bastion of highly educated, politically informed and opinionated blacks who would welcome additional content and information. So, why not develop additional products and content to service the needs of the market.

The timing could very well be a coincidence, or a well-timed rush to market, as the major media outlets are more curious than ever to get the take on blacks in general (and black women in particular) regarding the presidential candidates. There are more black political bloggers posting their varied opinions and getting covered in the mainstream press than ever before. An opportunity for more voices, more opinions and more dialogue is always good. It should be interesting to see what other new products are strategically planned by media and marketers to capitalize on the excitement and storm of this history-making presidential campaign season we are living in.
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