District of Criticism: The Root DC
Some things are naturally subject to critique: New albums, art shows, movies, restaurants. District of Criticism is here to review everything else.
Last month, the Washington Post launched The Root DC, a local page of the website that's an affiliate of the Post Co.'s The Root and the Post itself. It runs a mix of stories, photos and columns from the paper, all with an eye toward things of interest to the region's black residents.
Take a look and the first thing you'll notice is that there aren't very many freshly dated stories. There are a few—maybe 4-8—from that day, and a few more from the day before, and maybe even some stories from last week. The content, which ranges from entertainment to sports to finances, isn't really divided by section, mostly because there isn't enough. It reads much like the randomness in the Metro section of the paper would—stories about Montgomery County schools alongside a cultural story set in Northeast. It's fine.
But to be honest, what I like about it the most is the sort of as-yet-unrealized purpose, that editor Robert Pierre describes in his welcome note:
This site is meant, in part, to address one of the most persistent criticisms of journalism that I have heard over the past two decades: it doesn’t focus on what matters to you.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as something happened in your life that you want acknowledged. That’s what this space is about. You got an event? It has a place here. We might not be able to cover it ourselves. But if you send us photographs and captions, we will highlight it. Got a rant to get off your chest? Send that too and we’ll do our best to find a space for it.
Pierre's post recalls the halcyon days of the black press, when it served dual ends: to agitate in favor of civil rights and tell the small stories of black communities. Post slavery, when black American political thought was developing, and communities were building and rebuilding, black newspapers gave frustrated writers an outlet and black neighborhoods a chance to see their lives recorded. As the authors of The Race Beat pointed out, in the 1940s, "Negroes were most likely to appear in white newspapers only if they committed a crime against whites and that Negro institutions and organizations were seldom covered..." (It's worth noting that today, a lot of black newspapers still fight that fight—albeit with far smaller circulations.)
Still, while the project certainly excites me as one who has a fondness for the black press, it doesn't look like the Post is throwing a ton of resources at it.
The Root DC does quite a bit of aggregating, and it pulls in stories from partner blogs and other areas of the Post, depending, says Pierre, on "what’s available and what I feel like we don’t have." So far, though, content is pretty sparse on the site, which isn't a huge surprise, as Pierre told me there's only one other Post staffer assigned "basically full time" to the project: Chris Jenkins.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, its relationship with The Root's national site doesn't seem to have made for a lot of cross-pollination. Though Pierre says, "we talk all the time" to The Root, and some stories from The Root DC appear on the former's pages, the reverse doesn't seem to be quite as true. This makes sense, though, since the latter's focus is local.
Verdict: The Root DC is a great idea. It's just unclear whether it can sustain the readership and build the resources to make it into a great reality.