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When Emily Ramshaw was editor-in-chief at the Texas Tribune in 2019, she had an idea: why not start a nonprofit, nonpartisan publication that would cover issues of importance to the largest demographic of the U.S. electorate — women. Ramshaw wanted to tell stories that women cared about and put their voices front and center in the political mix. With her colleague Amanda Zamora, then chief audience officer at the Tribune, she co-founded The 19th, a newsroom that focuses on women, as Zamora puts it, as "equal participants in democracy."
The 19th is dedicated to in-depth reporting of the issues that matter to women, especially health care, which, according to the Gender Watch Project's 2018 survey, women prioritize more than men do when considering candidates for office.
In the runup to the 2016 election, says Zamora, "we saw a dearth of the kind of coverage that we feel we...need in our democracy. [Emily and I] have worked in terrific newsrooms with incredible report[ers],...[but] we want[ed] to see a more dedicated focus [on] the intersection of gender politics and policy. We don't want our coverage to be the exception; we want it to be the rule."
The 19th is named for the amendment that gave female citizens of the U.S. the right to vote; August marked the hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the amendment. The asterisk in the publication's logo is an acknowledgment, however, that while the right of women to vote has been mostly a given for white women, race-based voter suppression tactics and laws have prevented many women of color from exercising their constitutional right.
In its first four months of operation, The 19th raised $7 million and attracted seven hundred founding members, including philanthropic organizations like Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors' Reproductive Health and Women's Rights Collaborative and the Ford Foundation, and individuals like documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney and philanthropist and nonprofit co-founder Kathryn Murdoch.
The Ford Foundation is a donor because its commitment to gender equity is aligned with The 19th’s mission. "[We have] an ongoing body [of] gender equity work, including research and conferences as well as grants to newsrooms, and we were thrilled to hear about the concept for The 19th," explains Farai Chideya, a program officer at the foundation.
Shortly after its launch, the staff of The 19th comprised about a dozen people. Yet even in the face of a pandemic, the publication continued to expand, with Zamora and Ramshaw hiring reporters for a range of beats, including women's health, the economy, and state government.
The publication's editor-at-large, Errin Haines, understands that lots of readers aren't obsessed with politics, as she is, and believes they’ll be better served by comprehensively reported stories that don’t focus on aggressive yet superficial "horse-race politics." Clickbait also is not welcome. Instead, Haines says, she is aiming for "storytelling that represents women of different races, of different socioeconomic backgrounds, [and] of different geographies." Her objective is to assign articles that focus on the issues rather than election polls and pose questions such as "How do we define electability, and how much does that have to do with race and gender?" Articles and questions, in other words, that start "a conversation that centers voters and inform policy."
With the global pandemic dominating the news cycle, The 19th has pivoted to tell stories about how COVID-19 is impacting women — for example, how the crisis has been leveraged by conservative politicians to limit reproductive rights. The publication also has started to document the experiences of women on the front lines of the pandemic, including those working as healthcare providers, as teachers, and providing social services to people in need. Presented in partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer, the series, "Portraits of a Pandemic," highlights acts of female leadership, bravery, and ingenuity over the last year.
The 19th also is examining how the pandemic has affected voting for female, nonbinary, and transgender candidates, with a focus on voter access and suppression.
Regardless of the course of the pandemic, The 19th vows to be "a destination for all women who want to be civically engaged regardless of their politics," Haines says. "All of them need to be able to see themselves in what we are talking about, the conversations we are trying to encourage among the electorate, with women — the majority of the electorate."
Hilary Weaver (@hilary_weaver) is a freelance writer based in New England who covers the intersection of gender and politics, entertainment, queer issues, and pop culture.