In a year of unprecedented events and revolutionary shifts in the world’s political landscape, journalism has arguably never been more important. The 19th*, a news source that started reporting only in January of this year, has proven itself crucial by bringing intersectionality to the forefront of their coverage and elevating stories that other news sources might ignore.
Co-founder and CEO of The 19th* Emily Ramshaw sat down with The 19th*’s editor-at-large Errin Haines Oct. 8 as part of Scripps College’s Roxanne Wilson Leader-in-Residence Program to discuss race, gender and their work creating The 19th*.
Ramshaw spoke about how the idea for the company came to her during the 2016 presidential election, when some news was saturated with discussions of Hillary Clinton’s likeability and electability. Busy with a newborn and already deep into her career at The Texas Tribune, Ramshaw shelved the idea, hoping that the media would move away from a sexist interpretation of women’s political campaigns. But when the race began for the 2020 election, she saw these same discussions surrounding the female candidates appear in news sources across the country.
“These questions [of likeability and electability] felt not just patently sexist but also patently racist,” Ramshaw said. So at this moment in history, “when race and gender have never been in more flux,” she said she decided to take the risk and start The 19th*.
In order to put her dream into action, she had to gather a team of talented journalists and visionaries, which is when she turned to Errin Haines. At the time Ramshaw approached her, Haines was at a new height in her career, working as the national writer on race and ethnicity for the Associated Press. Leaving this position to work at a startup was a risk, to say the least.
Once Haines listened to what Ramshaw had in mind for The 19th*, she felt that she couldn’t pass up such an opportunity. And as she watched the events of 2020 begin to play out, joining The 19th* became a logical progression in her career.
“To me, race and gender weren’t just a storyline of 2020,” Haines said. “They were the storyline of 2020, and I wanted to be at a place where we were going to say that not just through my journalism but as a newsroom.”
The 19th* faced the added challenge of starting up at the beginning of 2020, a year which would prove to be quite perilous for new companies. Despite the less than ideal conditions, Haines said that the company was able to carve out a place for itself in the media by reporting in ways that resonated with the public.
“Our news source was able to pivot pretty quickly to the realization that women are not only the majority of the U.S. electorate, but that they are the majority of the U.S. workforce and the majority of the people that are being disproportionately impacted by and responding to the pandemic,” Haines said.
Ramshaw went on to explain that her vision for The 19th* was to create “the most representative newsroom in the country” and to challenge the norms of journalism in the United States. The fact that white men occupy the majority of politics editors and reporters made her want to focus on the demographics of the company’s employees as well as the types of stories they cover.
“The reality is that the news is already gendered,” Ramshaw said. “Women are more than half of the American electorate and they are accurately, or even close to equally, represented in the highest ranks of the American newsrooms. I feel very strongly that our storytelling will be more deeply empathetic and more representative if women are allowed to advance to the highest levels of this field.”
The 19th* attempts to remedy this issue by employing a more diverse group of reporters and creating a workspace that is receptive to their needs. As Ramshaw explained, the reason why women are so underrepresented in journalism is not only because of the extra challenges they face getting into the field, but also because of the environment in which they are expected to work once they find employment.
“Women are more than half of the American electorate and they are accurately, or even close to equally, represented in the highest ranks of the American newsrooms. I feel very strongly that our storytelling will be more deeply empathetic and more representative if women are allowed to advance to the highest levels of this field.” — Emily Ramshaw
“So many of the policies, the leave policies, the benefits in American newsrooms are not conducive to women staying in the field,” Ramshaw said. For this reason, The 19th* provides paid family and caregiver leave, recognizing the many responsibilities women often take on in pursuing career and family goals.
Creating a newsroom that challenges journalistic norms was not an easy endeavor to set in motion. Ramshaw opened up about the self-doubt she endured in taking the lead in creating The 19th*.
Up until starting The 19th*, Ramshaw saw herself only as a “second-in-command,” someone who could effectively put into action the plans of a visionary but was never seen as the visionary. “I just didn’t have the confidence in myself,” Ramshaw said. “I think this is something that women suffer from far more than men do.”
As The 19th* began publishing stories and gaining traction, Ramshaw found herself gaining confidence in the role she never thought she would occupy.
What impacted her as a person and leader even more were the connections she made with her coworkers. Ramshaw said that, as a result of working with such a diverse and talented group of individuals, her eyes “have been opened in a new way.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to create [The 19th*] if I didn’t have the women and partners on our team who are pushing us to the next frontier,” Ramshaw said. “I am excited to be part of a team of journalists who are challenging me, who are helping me think critically about the kind of leader I want to be, who are helping me to consider and understand my own privilege and put it to work by elevating the voices of others.”