One of Meghan Markle’s first public appearances since stepping back from the British royal family in January will be as an interviewer.
In effect Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex will be giving a stamp of approval to The 19th*, the new nonprofit newsroom that covers the intersection of women and politics.
On Friday, at the tail end of the news organization’s inaugural summit, Markle will be interviewing Emily Ramshaw, the co-founder and CEO of the 19th*.
Turns out, it was Markle’s idea.
“I nearly fell out of my chair,” Ramshaw said, when one of Markle’s representatives reached out.
“The Duchess basically said that the issues that we care about are issues that she’s really interested in this moment,” Ramshaw said, adding, “those things include super-high-quality media, gender equity, racial justice.”
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The website launched at the beginning of April. Its virtual summit, The 19th* Represents, began on Monday and runs through Friday. Participants include Stacey Abrams, Hillary Clinton, Melinda Gates, and Nikole Hannah Jones.
The list is a testament to the high-profile nature of the site’s launch. Still, the interest from the the Duchess was a welcome surprise.
Speaking with Brian Stelter on the “Reliable Sources” podcast, Ramshaw said the P.R. firm that’s working with Markle “asked if she could interview me as part of our summit. And we thought about it for about ten seconds before saying, ‘Sure.'”
‘Blow it all up and start over’
Ramshaw was the editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune for almost four years. She said she first contemplated a website like The 19th* during the 2016 election, when Hillary Clinton was on the ballot and when she was on maternity leave.
“I was outraged about the coverage in that moment and about how in this day and age, we were still having conversations about whether a woman was too shrill to be president,” Ramshaw said. “I have those same feelings four years later. We had more women on the debate stage than we’ve ever had before [in 2020], and we’re seeing those same conversations over and over.” The frustrations made her “want to blow it all up and start over,” she said.
Ramshaw and co-founder Amanda Zamora did just that, with the help of funders including Kathryn Murdoch and Craig Newmark. Ramshaw said many donors, large and small, “felt that there was a desperate need for something like this, particularly in this election cycle.”
The website is named after the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Ramshaw said the organization emphasizes the importance of recognizing racial disparities in the women’s rights movement. The asterisk in the organization’s name is meant to acknowledge that voting rights were, in practice, only granted to white women when the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919, and ratified the following year. Black women, for example, could not vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965—nearly 50 years later.
“That’s been the convention through which we think about all of our storytelling, honestly,” said Ramshaw. “It’s been really fascinating to get to take each story pitch and say, ‘OK, where’s the asterisk in this story? Where’s the way that women or women of color or other underserved groups are disproportionately affected? Where’s the gender diversity here?'”
Ramshaw said on the “Reliable Sources” podcast that creating an entirely new journalistic brand can be more effective than trying to fix these issues from within an already established news organization.
“The benefits of a brand new identity are truly limitless because you are freed from the confines of trying to change a massive bureaucracy or infrastructure,” she said. “To be able to launch The 19th* in this moment in history beyond the pandemic, this sort of dual pandemic, of the pandemic within a pandemic of a racial reckoning right now, to be able to build a newsroom that is, 75 percent people of color from day one, to be able to build a leadership team that’s three quarters women of color from day one… We have that kind of flexibility in a way that I think a lot of legacy newsrooms don’t. And that is such a gift.”
Looking toward the future, The 19th* is planning its coverage of the 2020 election as well as diving into reporting on the coronavirus pandemic through its site and partnerships with USA Today Network, Univision, and others.
“To me, it’s not enough just to be reaching people on our own platforms,” she said. “We have an enormous responsibility to reach women and other underserved groups wherever they may be, on whatever platforms they’re already consuming.