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Henry Louis Gates heads new Washington Post site

By A. James Memmott

January 29, 2008 at 9:40am

Henry Louis Gates Jr. may never sleep.

Gates, 57, is a Harvard professor as well as an author and editor of a shelf-load of books. He’s also the host of African American Lives, a PBS series on genealogy that begins its second season next week.

In addition to all of this and many other projects, Gates is the editor in chief of The Root, an Internet magazine launched Monday by the Washington Post Co.

The magazine aims to be “Slate for black readers,” Gates told the Washington Post.

In its debut issue, The Root offered a variety of stories and opinion on politics.

It featured author Toni Morrison’s endorsement of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, and had several stories related to his candidacy.

Among them was a piece by Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson about how Obama could transcend race in this campaign.

Author Kai Wright offered another point of view, saying that Obama should not “avoid unpleasant questions about race.”

In another commentary, journalism professor Alice Bonner explained why she was backing former Sen. John Edwards for the Democratic endorsement.

In a video introduction on the site, Gates says that The Root is intended to “combine the potency of the Web with our passion for history.”

Part of that history is connected to genealogical exploration that Gates has championed in the PBS series and in his writing.

A “Roots” section on The Root offers information on this kind of search, beginning with “A Beginners’ Guide to Tracing Your Roots.”

There is also a subsection on DNA testing. It begins with the disclosure that The Root has “a business relationship with AfricanDNA.com, which was co-founded by Henry Louis Gates Jr.” It goes on to list similar companies.

In its story introducing The Root, the Post explained that the idea for the site came from Donald E. Graham, the chairman and CEO of the Post Co.

Graham and Gates had met when they served together on the Pulitzer Prize board. Graham floated the idea of the online magazine to Gates a few months ago, the newspaper said.

“It took me precisely one nanosecond to say, ‘I would love to do that,’” Gates told the Post.

Lynette Clemetson, a former reporter for The New York Times and Newsweek, will serve as managing editor.

Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, which is also owned by the Post Co., helped with the startup of The Root.

Graham told the Times that he doesn’t expect The Root to turn a profit right away.

“I know it’ll lose money at the outset, and I make no predictions about how long,” he said. “But obviously, we intend to make money eventually.”

Check out The Root.

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