Broadband: With Jessica Rosenworcel
16 minutes

Journalism has always been essential part of how we make decisions about our lives, our communities, and our country. During the pandemic getting the facts we need to know about what is happening in the world around us is especially important. On this episode of Broadband Conversations, listeners will meet Emily Ramshaw, who has started a new nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom during the ongoing health crisis. She is the CEO of The 19th, which focuses on telling stories about women, policy, and politics. With women holding one-third of the jobs deemed essential, Emily’s efforts to bring attention to their stories and so much more that might be missed by more traditional news outlets is absolutely critical as we navigate the challenges ahead.


MS. ROSENWORCEL: Welcome to Broadband Conversations, a podcast where I get to talk to leading women from across the technology, innovation, and media industries. You get to hear what they're working on, what's on their minds, and what they think is the next big thing.

My name is Jessica Rosenworcel and I'm a member of the Federal Communications Commission. And today my guest is Emily Ramshaw, who is the chief executive officer and co-founder of The 19th, a new nonprofit digital newsroom reporting at the intersection of women, politics, and policy.

And I'm especially glad to have Emily joining us today for a few reasons. For starters, we are all looking for the latest news on the pandemic and what our communities are doing to respond to this crises. But, at the same time, the economics that empower journalism are changing. So many reporters are doing such important work, but creating and sustaining news organizations at this time is challenging.

And I know Emily knows this. She's had such a long and impressive career in journalism. She was the former editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune. And now, at her new venture, The 19th, she's looking beyond the Lone Star State and shining a light on stories about women. And, remember, women are on the front lines in this crisis. In fact, one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential.

And, finally, I just love this bit of history about where Emily's organization gets its name. This year marks 100 years since the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. And that, of course, is the amendment that guaranteed women the right to vote. So I am glad I can talk to her during this centennial year for women's suffrage.

So, I'm pretty sure it's not how either of us planned to commemorate this historic event during this strange and unprecedented crisis. But, Emily, I am so glad that you are here today.

MS. RAMSHAW: Thank you so much for having me. As you said, it's a very strange time to be launching a new startup, but I'm thrilled for the opportunity to talk to you about it.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, so, I want to hear how you're doing during these days, but I also want you to tell me how you got started doing journalism in a world that's gone digital, and what propelled you to start The 19th and what got you to where you are today.

MS. RAMSHAW: Absolutely. Well, the way-back story is that I'm the child of two journalist, so this has always been in my DNA.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Ah, that's the real origin story for journalism. It's in your blood.

MS. RAMSHAW: But I spent the last 10 years largely running the editorial operation at the Texas Tribune, which was a startup a decade ago when it began. And, really, this idea to launch The 19th first came to me about four years ago. I was on maternity leave with a little baby girl. Donald Trump had just been inaugurated. There were Women's Marches. There were big conversations around the Capitol. It seemed like a political moment where women were more deeply engaged than ever.

And I thought to myself we have worked so hard to build a more representative democracy in Texas by way of the Texas Tribune, with a sustainable business model for local news. Could I extrapolate that business model and that sort of sense of community and audience-building onto a national stage for women politics and policy?

As I'm sure you know, having an infant, it wasn't the right time to pursue this, and it was about three years until I really started to see the light again at the end of that tunnel. And we decided, going into this 2020 cycle, that this was the moment and we were going to take the leap and launch this venture.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And it's all digital. Correct?

MS. RAMSHAW: It is all digital, although one of the key priorities for us is that all of our journalism will be entirely free to distribute and republish by other news organizations around the country. So you should be expecting to see a lot of our stories and bylines in print and on air.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that's exciting. And I know research has been done and it shows that women are generally under-represented in a lot of media environments, you know, from behind the camera to who reports the news. Even news sources and who gets quoted by journalists themselves.

MS. RAMSHAW: Yeah. The way that I think about this is we know that roughly 70 percent of politics and policy editors are men and almost all of them are white. We know that something like 63 or 64 percent of politics and foreign policy reporters are men and almost all of them are white.

This is nothing against white men; I'm married to a terrific one. But what that means is that the news is already gendered. You know, these are the people who are deciding what's news and what isn't, whether a story plays on the front page or the home page, who's quoted in that story, who we're empathizing with in that story.

I'm sort of trying to change the structure and turn this narrative on its head so that we have better representation of women across all of our media properties.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, that's exciting, because, you know, there's stories that haven't been told when the community that's telling them is more similar than different.

MS. RAMSHAW: I think that is absolutely the case. I mean, I think, you know, we see over and over again that women don't feel like they're reflected or they don't see women who look like them in a lot of mainstream media. Our primary goal with The 19th is really to elevate the voices of women of color and women off of the coasts, underserved women in American media.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: It makes sense. You are headquartered in Texas, then, and sort of reaching out all across the county from Texas? Or do you have folks around the country working with you?

MS. RAMSHAW: We have folks all over the country and we'll have a staff of about 21 people over the next eight weeks. We officially launch late this summer. And you can expect to see those journalists all over the country.

Our home base from the standpoint of our platforms and technology and product is in Austin, Texas, which is home for the two co-founders of this venture. We think it was important for us to be situated really in the center of the country to tackle the mission that we have before us. But, yes, please expect to see journalists all across this country.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And so how did the idea come -- how did you come up with this idea? I mean, did it come to you in some epiphany at night that you wanted to do this or was this brewing in the back of your mind for some years while you were at the Texas Tribune?

MS. RAMSHAW: I thought about this in the back of my mind, really, for the last four years since my daughter was born, but I really wasn't in a position to take the leap then, for a wide range of reasons.

About a year ago I was in a hotel room at a conference and I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought to myself, this idea has been percolating; if someone else does this instead of me, I'm going to be really disappointed that I didn't take the leap. And it was that sort of moment where I realized I had to do this.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Yeah, I mean, that sounds like the sort of entrepreneurial moment in a script or a movie about what you're developing, that you woke up in a sweat in the middle of the night thinking that this is what you had to do.

MS. RAMSHAW: The reality is a whole lot less sexy.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Ah, right. Well, I'm going to imagine it as such. The thing that probably you weren't thinking about at that moment when you woke up was, well, I'm going to introduce this media organization into a country navigating a global pandemic, you know, in this crisis.

MS. RAMSHAW: That was never part of the plan, as you might imagine.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Of course not, yeah. But in this crisis women are so important. I mean, as I said at the start, you know, they are one in three essential workers. They are helping in our hospitals, caring for loved ones, they're cleaning shared spaces, they're stocking shelves, they are trying to develop vaccines. And I feel like there are so many stories to tell. And I'm wondering how you're thinking about that now as you're taking your entrepreneurial idea and making it meet this moment.

MS. RAMSHAW: Absolutely. That's a great question. And I'll tell you, it hasn't been easy. I mean, in March, when it became obvious how severe this pandemic was going to be, we actually sort of put our foot on the brake for a moment and thought, you know, should we just hunker down and try to ride out this storm and launch The 19th, you know, a year from now, hopefully when the dust is settled? But the more we thought about this moment, we kept seeing ways that women were even more disproportionately affected by this pandemic, as you mentioned.

In literally every arena other than mortality rates, women are being hit harder. They are losing jobs at faster rates. They are 75 percent of the frontline healthcare workers who have been sickened with COVID. They are nine out of 10 elementary school teachers who are trying to keep tabs on their own students and monitor their own children's e-learning.

I mean, you know, over and over again we saw the hits keep coming, and the disproportionate affect was worse with women of color. And so, for that reason, we actually sped up our plans. We had rolled out a marketing -- primarily marketing newsletter that was landing about once a week. We quickly pivoted it into a news-making newsletter that was three, four, soon to be five days a week. We upped the rate of our publishing. We had been publishing with the Washington Post. We also rolled out a partnership with the Philadelphia Inquirer, because one of our top political reporters was actually on the ground in Philly. She was grounded there during the pandemic.

So, yeah, I mean, we have moved, in many ways, full speed ahead. Now, it's a frightening time to be doing this for all of these sort of economic reasons you laid out, but we have money in the bank and the runway to make a go at this and we're going to give it our best shot.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that sounds terrific. Rather than using this moment to slow down, you really put your foot on the gas.

MS. RAMSHAW: Absolutely.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And, you know, another challenging thing, beyond trying to tell stories about women or things that might be perceived as nontraditional in journalism, is that the ad-supported model for traditional media is challenged. We're now seeing some newspapers become nonprofits. The media landscape is shifting. So, talk to me about how you think you might have a new model that can help really propel newsrooms in the digital present and future.

MS. RAMSHAW: Yeah, sure. So, I am largely trying to take the very entrepreneurial nonprofit model that we championed at the Texas Tribune onto a national stage. And so that's five primary revenue streams. That is everything from individual philanthropy and foundation support, to corporate underwriting, to a robust membership program that is sort of a public radio "viewers like you" style, to live events.

Now, I would say virtually every aspect of that diversified revenue model that worked so well for us over the last decade at the Tribune is facing challenges in this particular moment. You know, people don't have the financial strength that they did several months ago. Corporations are spending less on advertising and social media and corporate underwriting in this particular moment. Even individual members, whether it's $19 a month or $19 a year, people feel the pinch.

So I think the nonprofit media universe is going to face many of the same challenges that the for-profit space is currently experiencing. In many ways, it's sort of on steroids in the for-profit arena because of the advertising dollar hemorrhage that's underway right now.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Sure. So would you describe that as your biggest challenge in The 19th or is there something else? And I'm also curious what's been your greatest success of this new venture.

MS. RAMSHAW: Well, I would say certainly the business model aspect. And trying to launch any new business in a recession is exceedingly difficult. And so I would say that is among the two biggest challenges.

The other biggest challenge I also think is an opportunity, and that is we are really trying to find a way to speak to a super-diverse audience. And I mean diverse demographically, but I also mean diverse politically. I think there are a lot of conservative women who have not seen themselves reflected in much media as of late.

And I think trying to speak to them, trying to speak to women of color who also feel like they haven't seen themselves deeply reflected in a lot of sort of legacy media. This is a big challenge for us as we try to determine sort of how big of a tent we can have journalistically. So I would say those are the two things I'm thinking about day in and day out right now.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right. Now let's go a little self-promotional. Talk about what your greatest success starting The 19th has been.

MS. RAMSHAW: I think you will see in the next eight weeks us unveiling one of the most diverse newsrooms in America, and that is something I'm exceedingly proud of. I also think you'll see that we are providing the kinds of benefits for working women, working moms, that allow them really to advance and excel in this field. That includes everything from six months of fully paid family leave for new parents, to four months of fully paid caregiver leave so you can spend the last four months of your mom or dad's life with them without worrying about the parameters or confines of your job.

We are offering something that until a couple of months ago was quite novel, and that is fully remote work spaces, the flexibility to work from wherever you have the best childcare, or wherever you have the best elder care. We really want to prove the case that we can roll out a gold standard for families in our organization and make it sort of par for the course in organizations that we consider our peers.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that sounds terrific. And also having a diverse newsroom telling stories that don't always get told, because what we read about and what we see on screens says so much about who we are as individuals, as communities, as a nation, and diversifying the people who tell those stories is I think critical.

MS. RAMSHAW: I agree with you entirely.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right. So I have a few more final questions I like to ask everyone before they go. So, think back, Emily. Do you recall what is the first thing you did on the internet or online?

MS. RAMSHAW: Oh, my gosh. That is a great question. I would say I not so fondly remember being on AOL Instant Messenger from the office in the upstairs of my childhood home, trying to chat with my friends, trying to make that dial-up internet work, that sort of screeching noise that identified to everyone in the household that I was trying to get on the internet.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Absolutely. That hiss and buzz is iconic. So, let's be much more mundane. What is the very last thing you did online before joining us here?

MS. RAMSHAW: I had a Zoom call with my daughter's pre-K, which is hoping that it's going to be able to open in some capacity this fall, but it was sort of an orientation session with about 40 four-year-olds and it was a nightmare.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, my gosh. I can identify with that, the whole screen time school thing right now. We are all navigating a future we didn't really imagine a few months ago. So, more broadly, what do you want the future of digital and internet life to look like?

MS. RAMSHAW: I mean, I can tell you what I want the future of digital media to look like, and that is financially sustainable, accessible to a broader swath of the public. Smart and thoughtful and empathetic. A step away from sort of the horse race into the lived experiences of everyday Americans. And diverse, representative. That's what I hope digital media looks like, and the internet looks like.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, that sounds good. All right. So you're doing all these good things. Before we go, tell us where folks can follow you to keep up to date with what you're doing, where you are online or social media so they can keep tabs on your work and the work of The 19th.

MS. RAMSHAW: Absolutely. So, we hope that you will check out our website, which is You can sign up for our free newsletter there. We also hope that you'll follow us on social media. You can follow us on Twitter. The handle is @19thnews.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Fantastic. So, that wraps up this episode of Broadband Conversations. Thank you for being here, Emily, and the work you do. Thanks, everyone. Take care.