While evidence of consolidation in business can be seen just about everywhere, sites that cater to a niche are no different. We’ve seen the effects in the closings of larger operations like RushmoreDrive.com and even in the closing of operations that just plum ran out of cash like Vibe Magazine. Larger sites like the aforementioned seem to have less of an advantage to independently owned sites lately. That is unless they operate like an indie site.
It is easy to get caught-up in the fact the Washington Post’s African-American play, theRoot.com, is owned by one of the most respected media outlets. And sister site Slate.com is no wallflower either. With that said you may think that there is a lot of muscle behind theRoot’s operation but a closer looks reveals a smarter more realistic approach. With a staff of only 8 Full-time employees (not including the many contributors located across the country), 6 of whom are attributed to editorial, theRoot’s staff is small and nimble and the site’s publisher Donna Byrd says it will stay that way. The offices are based in Washington DC in a shared space with Slate.com; surely a good move to help keep costs under control for a business whose model is primarily based on advertising. In speaking with Bryd she made note that while the business is based on advertising, like most media companies, it is exploring alternative streams of revenue.
We’ve been covering theRoot since its launch back in January 2008 and what existed then compared to what exists on the site now is notably different. Bryd explained that their readers really wanted to hear what theRoot had to say, hence the change in focus from Geneology to Commentary. She also noted that at one point the site focused only on critical analysis and the ended up shifting slightly to really focus on what the reader wanted versus dictated commentary.
While all this sounds great it doesn’t take us to point out the lack of social media integration on the site, especially at a time when many are adopting because of its relatively low cost to execute. Byrd elaborated on the sites demographic, citing the average age was between 25-45 and because of this they are actively moving to integrate social media into the site. She explained the area of the site called ‘The Fam‘ will incorporate social media and make it easier for users to interact with one another. The commenting system will also undergo an overhaul and utilize API’s like Facebook’s. Currently the site’s commenting system may remind you of yesteryear requiring users to register prior to posting a comment. Bryd says this is because they like to know who is coming to the site. To date theRoot has mainly used sites like Facebook to highlight content and bridge virtual events with offline events, case-in-point the inauguration earlier this year. When asked about the slow pace to integrate social media Byrd explained they’d focused the last year and a half getting the site’s content to a place where readers loved it and associated this type of content with their brand; now they are working on their technology and how people engage with their content. She cited one of their most popular features that also had a level of interactivity, their Spike Lee interview, as an example of the type of content readers have engaged intimately with thus far. She also mentioned in addition to social media becoming more important to the site, video content will as well. While the theRoot has been slow to adopt social media they aren’t completely shy on it. They’ve used Twitter (@theRootBuzz) as a way to connect with their audience, bloggers, and source content from around the web that is aggregated into their site under their Buzz category. They had also used Tumblr as a quick and easy way to source and import the content.
Though we weren’t able to get any information from Bryd on specifics of what to look out for from theRoot in the coming months, she did tell us that they are always looking at ways to facilitate reader engagement using technology. We’ll be watching.Category: News, Startups, web 2.0 | Tags: Donna Byrd, slate, theroot, theRoot Buzz, washington post, WashingtonPost Newsweek Interactive