Texas Journalists To Launch Women-Focused News Site

Feb 2, 2020
Originally published on February 3, 2020 10:08 am
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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The news business has been struggling for a while - declining newspaper circulation, for example, or plummeting ad revenues in both print and television news, not to mention the shutting down of local newsrooms across the country. According to a 2018 Pew Research report, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped 25% over the past decade. So you might think that this is not the best time to start a new news organization, but Emily Ramshaw, the former editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, doesn't seem put off by any of that.

Ramshaw, along with Amanda Zamora, who was The Texas Tribune's chief audience officer, are launching a new nonprofit newsroom. They've called it The 19th, and it will focus on the impact of politics and policy on women. Emily Ramshaw is here to tell us more about The 19th. And she joins me now from member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Thanks for being with us.

EMILY RAMSHAW: My pleasure.

MCCAMMON: And what does it mean to you to filter the news through a gender lens? I mean, what is the biggest difference readers will notice?

RAMSHAW: Sure. I mean, I think the biggest difference readers will notice is probably something that they don't notice firsthand, which is that 70% of politics and policy reporters and editors are men. Almost all of them are white. This is nothing against white men, I'm married to a great one. But what this means is that the people who are deciding what's news and what isn't, deciding who's quoted in stories, which experts are represented, deciding where those stories play, whether it's on the front page or the home page or not at all, those decisions are already being filtered through a male lens.

The news is already gendered. So what we're trying to do is level the playing field. It's to, you know, produce a platform to produce a destination news product and also an entirely free-to-distribute news product that puts the stories and voices of women first.

MCCAMMON: What does that look like? I mean, will that be different story ideas, different criteria for what news is or will it be more of the same kinds of subjects but written about differently? I mean, what do we expect here?

RAMSHAW: So this isn't the day's news but pink. This is unique and original coverage about the role of gender in influencing politics and in setting policy. So it's about electability. It's about inequity. It's storytelling from across the country that really empathizes with the lived experiences of women in America. So let me give you a couple of examples. It wouldn't be sort of daily turn of the screw impeachment coverage, but it might be a story about how women are shaping the impeachment fight, from The Squad to women lawmakers in swing districts to Speaker Pelosi. It might be storytelling about the future of female work in the gig economy, especially when it comes to caretaking. So that's sort of a look at what our storytelling will be like.

MCCAMMON: You're calling this project The 19th after the 19th Amendment, which of course gave women the right to vote. But it didn't really give all women the right to vote. I mean, functionally, women of color were excluded for a long time. Are we missing something by focusing on the 19th?

RAMSHAW: So if you look at our logo, you'll see that it's The 19Th with an asterisk. And that asterisk is a call out to the fact that the 19th Amendment, you know, as first written, was meant to extend the vote to all women but didn't. And, you know, even today, we see states where voting rights are infringed on in ways that affect, women particularly women of color. So that messaging for us is basically saying the 19th Amendment didn't go far enough. It's still unfinished business. Our image and our goal, really, is to sort of take it back and to reenergize and reinvigorate civic engagement for women of all creeds.

MCCAMMON: And you're not only centering women in the content you publish but also in how you run your news organization. For example, you're providing six months of maternity leave for your workers and caregiving leave. Why is that important to you?

RAMSHAW: Sure. I mean, part of the challenge we've seen in the news business is that women, sort of at their prime opportunity for leadership in newsrooms, often find that there's no path forward for them. You know, many of us who've worked in breaking news environments know the 5 to 8 p.m. window of the day is the most difficult time of the day. If you are a parent, if you have small children, that's also basically the only time of day you get to be with your children when they're awake.

We see time and time again women making choices at a moment they could be ascending to leadership to instead step out of the business and go into other fields. What I'm trying to do beyond elevate women's voices in coverage is keep women in the business.

MCCAMMON: And finally, Emily Ramshaw, what about your readers? I mean, do you envision your typical reader being a woman or are you hoping to reach everybody with this journalism?

RAMSHAW: We are absolutely hoping to reach everybody. Men need this work as much as women do. The free distribution model is also critical to this. What I want is for the woman, you know, on the bus in El Paso driving from job one to job two to be able to pick up a discarded newspaper and see our stories, for the woman watching Univision to hear our stories translated on the nightly news. For us, it's not enough just to pull readers into our own platforms. This journalism is a public service, and we have an obligation to reach women and men where they are.

MCCAMMON: That's Emily Ramshaw. She's the co-founder of the new nonprofit newsroom The 19th. Emily Ramshaw, thanks so much for your time.

RAMSHAW: It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.