A group of women journalists have set up their own news outlet in the US to serve women under-represented and under-supported in the media.
The 19th, named after the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution which granted women the right to vote, is an online publication focused on reporting at the 'intersection of gender, politics and policy'.
It is built on the premise that under-representation in newsrooms takes its toll on the story selection and editing process, as well as which voices are heard and neglected. According to The Status of Women in the US Media 2019, men report and produce the majority of US news: 69 percent of news wire bylines (AP and Reuters) are snagged by men, 31 percent by women, which is by far the biggest gender gap in news media. This figure is largely consistent across print, online and TV news.
In terms of newsroom representation, around six in ten US newsroom employees were men in 2018. It is making slow progress, separate studies show representation of women in US newsrooms has increased by roughly six per cent over the last 15 years.
Part of The 19th's solution to bring these figures up to parity is to change hiring practices and policies to be more inclusive and accommodating, particularly for women aiming to advance into leadership roles. This includes six-months paid leave for new parents, four-months paid leave for sick relatives and a range of flexible and remote job openings.
To put it into context, the US does not currently offer statutory paid maternity leave, companies are under no obligation to do so and one-in-four parents return to work two weeks after childbirth.
Editor-in-chief Andrea Valdez said that by hiring reporters from across the US, they can expand their hiring remit. It gives them not just a better chance to achieve gender balance in the newsroom, but also gender balance in quoted experts and featuring more stories from people of colour and different socio-economic backgrounds.
"We’re really interested in making sure we're telling stories from the coasts. Those are really important places for stories, of course, but we think that there are also equally important stories in the middle of the country," she explained.
Amanda Zamora, co-founder and publisher, The 19th, added that diversity could be a crucial step to finding and securing new audiences.
"It starts with hiring and thinking about setting a culture where you are embracing a diversity of lived experience in your own newsroom," Zamora explained.
"To attract the audiences that you're seeking to serve, you also need to represent those audiences as a newsroom."
The cost of doing nothing, Valdez said, is becoming irrelevant in the online space.
"What news organisations stand to lose by not having a diverse point of view is readers. Readers will go elsewhere and communities will form in that vacuum," she said.
The non-profit news organisation has been backed by donations close to $5 million, including $1 million donations each by Kathryn Murdoch, the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors' Reproductive Health and the Women’s Rights Collaborative.
We are so humbled by the outpouring of support for @19thnews. Thanks to every single one of you who have followed, tweeted, subscribed and donated. In just two days, we have nearly:— 19thnews (@19thnews) January 29, 2020
• 400 founding members
• 3k email subscribers
• 14k social followers
You all are amazing. pic.twitter.com/R49UJh4aHF
Although the publication does not launch until summer this year, the team has already been creating content under The 19th banner for The Washington Post and intends to continue working with other publications until launch date. Content will be free to acess when the title goes live.
"We want to have a critical mass of people turning to our website and our newsletters, but we also have a fairly distributed strategy of partnering with publications around the country," Zamora explained.
"If we're writing a story about gerrymandering in Texas, we’re going to be looking to public media and community partners to make sure we can get those stories in front of the people who have a vital interest in those stories."
As well as helping provide a platform for stories that matter to American women, Valdez also said that the launch of The 19th gives her the opportunity to help 'give back' and help mentor the next generation of women reporters.
"I’ve had the good fortune of having women mentors in leadership who have brought me along, and I feel this is a chance for me to pay that forward and serve the same role for other women in this capacity."
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