The Cohort: How Emily Ramshaw plans to build the most representative newsroom in America

February 4, 2020

Q&A with Emily Ramshaw, co-founder and CEO of The 19th

This article originally appeared in an issue of The Cohort, Poynter’s newsletter for women kicking ass in digital media. Join the conversation here.

When Emily Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora announced in November they were leaving The Texas Tribune to start a national nonprofit news organization for women, the journalism world exploded into confetti.

Digital applause flooded the feed:

As we now know, Ramshaw’s brainchild is called The 19th, nodding to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. The asterisk in the logo underscores the unfinished work of women’s enfranchisement and empowerment in this country. (Ramshaw sits on Poynter’s National Advisory Board.)

Ramshaw and Zamora, the former Tribune editor in chief and chief audience officer, respectively, will take the Tribune’s playbook and apply it to the national stage. Revenue streams will be the same: philanthropy, foundations, corporate underwriting, membership and events. Topics will be the same: politics and policy.

But whereas the Tribune serves Texans as a niche, The 19th’s audience isn’t really a niche at all. Women make up more than half the population.

The core Tribune business model might not extrapolate on a broader scale, either. Many journalism foundations are favoring local news initiatives and collaborations, not those targeting a national audience. Live events, a fruitful revenue stream for the Tribune, might not foster a parallel sense of relationship for attendees, hosts or sponsors when they’re decentralized.

With more details about The 19th come more questions. I wanted to know what spurred Ramshaw to move from a stable, fulfilling job to the less predictable role of entrepreneur. I wanted to know what kind of workplace the boss known for her commitment to women’s equality would design from scratch. And I wanted to know how she was dealing with the buzz of being a media darling before she even launched the thing.

So I asked. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


This article originally appeared in an issue of The Cohort, Poynter’s newsletter for women kicking ass in digital media. Join the conversation here.


Mel: Besides the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, why launch a national nonprofit newsroom for women now?

Emily: We are responding to 2016 and the first (major) female presidential nominee. We are responding to 2018 and 2020 and the enormous surge in women running for office on both sides of the aisle. But really what we’re responding to is a hunger among American women to be given an equal seat at the table.

I also think we’re responding to a moment for women in newsrooms. Data shows that more than 70% of politics and policy reporters and editors are men. Women make up the majority of journalism school graduates, yet by the time they reach my age and position in life, many of them have chosen other paths because newsrooms are grueling environments. I want to build a newsroom for and by women where we allow women to advance in this most critical field without sacrificing their families or their children.

Mel: What does a woman-friendly workplace look like to you?

Emily: What that looks like for us is six months of fully paid parental leave for moms and dads. It looks like four months of fully paid family leave for emergencies, for caregiving for elderly parents or sick relatives.

It looks like flexibility. We have posted more than 17 jobs for employees, many of whom can live and work wherever they already are.

And I think as I travel the country speaking and raising money for this venture, you can expect to see a 4-year-old with me.

Mel: Sometimes robust benefits like that are at odds with small organizations or startup culture. How hard has it been to stick to those values?

Emily: We wrote it into our budget from day one. It’s something I’m not going to sacrifice. And I obviously know startup culture is hard, and the nonprofit space is hard. But I hope this is a value proposition for us as we speak to philanthropists and foundations. And I’m really hopeful that when push comes to shove, this is something that we can do in a lasting way.

Mel: Tell me more about the journalism you will be producing. What’s the editorial vision?

Emily: This is original reporting at the intersection of gender, politics and policy. But the through-line for all of our reporting, which is truly nonpartisan, is equity.

It is storytelling that exposes disparities in everything from politics and representation, to the economy, to our healthcare system, to our educational systems. It’s storytelling that presents potential solutions that bring readers of all sides of the aisle together to have civil conversations.

We hope that there are millions of Americans who will come to our website directly, read our newsletters in their inboxes, listen to our podcasts or come to our live events. But also, equally important is the distribution model: making our work readily free to republish by every American newsroom, by ethnic media, by international media.

Mel: How do you think The 19th will be distinct from other national media sites aimed at women? I’m thinking about HuffPost Women, In Her Words from The New York Times or The Lily from The Washington Post.

Emily: I’d say we are standing on the shoulders of all of those women who are doing important work on very different platforms. The women at the Fuller Project have done this internationally through a lot of great partnerships. TheSkimm has cracked the code in finding women who are looking for digestible versions of the day’s news. Fortune’s Broadsheet speaks to a select group of women in the workforce, and it’s something that I read as frequently as it hits my inbox. So we’re trying to add even more voices and even more attention in this space.

I think for us the deep focus on politics and policy is a unique value proposition — as is building what we believe will be the most representative and diverse newsroom in America from day one. Our pitch is to reach women who we believe are underserved by and underrepresented in existing legacy media.

Mel: You were part of the startup team for The Texas Tribune. How has this experience been different?

Emily: When we started the Tribune 10 years ago, I was a baby reporter. My responsibility was breaking our early stories and going to Office Depot to buy reams of paper and staplers. It felt so thrilling and exciting. I didn’t have the weight of the world on my shoulders because, at the end of the day, I was a contributor.

Starting a new venture, I feel all of those pressures that I didn’t feel 10 years ago. I feel the pressure of encouraging other incredible people to leave their very stable jobs in an unstable industry. I feel the weight of having to ensure the sustainability of this operation. I feel the weight of having to produce a stellar product that stands out in the field. I feel the weight of supporting a family and raising a 4-year-old, and being a great partner to my husband and trying to do all of that while we’re going at 100 miles an hour.

So it is completely different than it was 10 years ago. My husband always says, “Make sure you enjoy the doing.” And so right now, I’m really trying to focus on enjoying the doing.

Mel: What has been helpful for you in focusing on “enjoying the doing?” I mean … I saw your tweet about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Emily: I know! We’re all suffering from the startup freshman 15 right now, for real.

Honestly, the legacy of The Texas Tribune has been really helpful. Knowing that I’ve done it before has been helpful. I have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Mel: To your earlier point, it does sound like a lot of pressure.

Emily: It is. But at the end of the day, this isn’t about me. And honestly, it’s not even really about my daughter. It’s about the little girls who look nothing like my daughter and have not had the experiences or the opportunities that my daughter has had or that I’ve had or that my mother has had. This is about elevating the voices of women whose voices haven’t been elevated in media, and that’s the biggest responsibility and the driving force. And why, even when I have icy terror coursing through my veins, I have to shake it off and say, “There’s a higher calling here.”

Mel: You’re not doing this alone. You’ve got Amanda Zamora with you as co-founder and publisher. What’s your relationship like?

Emily: We have four years of experience together at The Texas Tribune where I was the editor in chief and she was my chief audience officer. She is far more process-driven, product-driven and programmatic than I am. I am impulsive: I’m moving to the next idea and the next concept. She slows me down and I speed her up, and then we meet at this perfect space in the middle. I think she is probably one of the industry’s top technology and audience wizards. She is a dreamy colleague, a dreamy human being, and I am so lucky to be working with her.

Mel: Did working with Amanda make leaving the Tribune easier?

Emily: Nothing about leaving the Tribune was easy for me. You know, it’s like my firstborn. They are the best group of people. They are my best friends. It was an exceedingly difficult decision.

There were a lot of days I thought I would spend the rest of my career there. And then suddenly, I just had this bug that I couldn’t shake.

Mel: Have you been able to take a chance to mourn that? Or grapple with the transition?

Emily: One of the reporters who I respect most in the world, Pam Colloff, said to me, “You need to create space for yourself to grieve this.” I’m glad I listened. I’m letting myself feel all the feels. And I think that’s reasonable and rational and more of us should do that.

I had the best job in American journalism. And I left it for a total unknown. Does that keep me up at night? Absolutely. But I’m also about to have the time of my life.


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