The Times covers Skip Gates’ new venture, TheRoot.com, and its odd connection to the genetic testing company he co-founded, AfricanDNA.
The third major part of the new site, titled âRoots,â will have online tools for people to build their family trees, link to or add information to other peopleâs trees and construct maps showing their ancestral trails. It will also urge people to have DNA testing, which can help them trace their backgrounds to specific ethnic groups and parts of the world. It will offer links to companies that do the testing.
One such company the site will direct people to, www.AfricanDNA.com, is co-owned by Mr. Gates, a relationship that would be prohibited at some publications.
âI donât see a conflict of interest,â he said, because The Root will fully disclose his roles and will link to every company that does the DNA testing.
I find this all very odd. There is an entire section of TheRoot devoted to DNA testing; the very name of the publication is connected to genealogy; and frankly, there seems much more care devoted to the DNA testing part of the site than there is to the actual online magazine part of the site.
Is this a real magazine, or just a front to drum up business for Skip Gates’ new company?
Moreover, TheRoot doesn’t link to every other company that does DNA testing. It links to some of themâsort of.
When you click on a box labeled “DNA testing,” a small “Disclosure” form briefly pops upâfar too quickly to be readâ then goes away and is replaced by a video promoting genetic testing. If you stop the process (for me, holding my space bar did it), you can actually read the box, which says,
Though TheRoot.com has a business relationship with AfricanDNA.com, which was co-founded by Henry Louis Gates Jr., there are many other companies that offer DNA testing services. Among those that you can choose from are RootsforReal.com, OxfordAncestors.com, The Genographic Project ( www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic ) and Ancestry.com .
Companies aimed specifically at African Americans include AfricanAncestry.com. Prices and services vary by company.
In type that is about twice the point size, the disclosure form then provides a link: CONTINUE TO AFRICANDNA.COM.
Given that Skip Gates is all over the site, and that his affiliation with AfricanDNA.com is probably a selling point, and the site is designed to funnel traffic to AfricanDNA.com, which genetic testing service do you think most readers will go to?
In another video, with the author Bliss Broyard, Gates hands Broyard a piece of paper and says, “For you, with our special test…” The paper discloses that she is 17.2% black.
As the Times points out, TheRoot.com is co-founded by Don Graham, publisher of the Washington Post. Graham should know better than to permit this kind of arrangement in a publication that defines itself as a magazine. It’d be akin to him devoting the entire editorial page of the Washington Post to a company in which he was a primary investorâevery day.
Should the entire “Roots” section of TheRoot.com be considered an advertisement? (Yes.) Should the details of Gates’ business relationship with AfricanDNA be disclosed? (Yes.) Should the exact nature of the site’s “business relationship” with AfricanDNA.com be disclosed. (Well, obviously.) Can you trust the “editorial” of TheRoot? No.
I look, for example, at the first two stories on the site, which are both about Kenya, and I think, Are they there because of all the turbulence going on in Kenya? Or are they there to further the readers’ mental and emotional connection to Africa, so that they will start to think seriously about investigating their genetic origins?
The idea of an online magazine devoted to black issues is a great one. It’s unfortunate that this magazine is fundamentally compromised from its inception.