Aug 4, 2020 - Economy

Women-focused non-profit newsrooms surge forward in 2020

Illustration of female icon made of newspaper

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Women are pushing back against the gender imbalance in media by launching their own news nonprofits and focusing on topics many traditional news companies have long ignored.

Why it matters: "The news business is already gendered," says Emily Ramshaw, co-founder and CEO of The 19th*, a new nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting at the intersection of women, politics and policy.

  • "They (men) decide who's quoted, what experts are reflected, whether it lives on the home page or if a story is covered at all."

Exclusive: Prism, a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color)-led nonprofit news outlet, is launching this week to focus on coverage of electoral justice, gender justice, workers’ rights, criminal justice, racial justice and immigration, executives tell Axios.

  • Prism soft-launched in 2019 with the backing of a number of foundations. Its hard launch this week comes on the heels of the rounding out a remote staff just before the pandemic started in March. The company now has 10 full-time employees, half in editorial, all of whom are women of color.
  • Prism is unveiling a new website and new investigative series and culture-focused features highlighting BIPOC voices and underreported issues in coming weeks.
  • Ashton Lattimore, editor-in-chief at Prism and former editor of the Harvard Law Review, says that the company is uniquely positioned to intervene in this moment. ""Women, Black, Indigenous, and people of color are typically left out of mainstream media narratives, and that has real world consequences at any time," says Lattimore.
  • "In a moment like this, that reshapes the way we think about democracy and policy — it's that much more critical for underreported folks and people of color to be driving this conversation, because we need to be the ones driving the way we move forward to create a more just and equitable future."

The 19th*, named in honor of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, launched this week with $8.5 million in fundraising. Its goal is to elevate stories from people that have long been underserved by the American media, from conservative women in flyover territory to women of color, says Ramshaw.

  • "We want to level the playing field to provide enormous infusion of women politics and policy reporters into this sphere and to provide journalism that other news outlets can cross-publish."
  • The outlet announced strategic distribution partnerships with USA Today and Noticias Univision on Monday. Univision will be translating The 19th*'s stories into Spanish for its millions of digital readers. USA Today will distribute stories from The 19th to 250+ of its local and regional partner newsrooms.
  • The 19th* launched as a non-profit with backing from philanthropy and corporate underwriting, as well as a paid membership model. It currently has 22 people on staff — a dozen are journalists and 91% of staff are female.
  • This week, it will host "The 19th Represents" Summit in honor of the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment being signed into law. Part of the goal with the events is to press women elected officials on important issues.

The Fuller Project, a nonprofit that's been around since 2015, has raised $8.4 million since late 2016, executives tell Axios.

  • The outlet is the first non-profit to focus on publishing stories specifically about women with major outlets around the globe.
  • The Fuller Project focuses on global reporting of injustice to women. For years it has partnered with many mainstream news companies to distribute its reporting to mainstream audiences.
  • It has about 20 staffers globally, roughly half in the newsroom.
  • "Right now at the intersection of everything happening with race and social justice, the coronavirus and public health — women's stories are the center of those moments, whether talking about income, unemployment, or childcare,' says Khushbu Shah, The Fuller Project's interim editor-in-chief.

“When the Fuller Project started, it was all too rare to see women-centered stories played prominently in mainstream outlets," says Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of The Forward, a publication that focuses on American Jews, and a member of The Fuller Project's board.

  • "That has, thankfully, changed since the groundbreaking investigations that led to the #MeToo movement, but we're all still relearning the lessons of how important it is to see history and policies and conflicts through the specific lens of the less-empowered, the excluded, the other."

Be smart: The gender and ethnic disparities in newsrooms are awful, despite many news audiences skewing female.

  • A 2019 report from the Women's Media Center finds that women make up 41% of U.S. daily newspaper employees and 47% percent of U.S. online-only news organization employees, despite being 50% of the U.S. population, per the U.S. Census.
  • Similarly, about 22% of daily newspaper employees and roughly 26% of online-only news site employees were racial minorities, despite making up roughly 40% of the U.S. population.

What's next: All three of these nonprofits are designed and managed to accommodate the unique challenges that women in the workforce face.

  • The 19th is giving employees 6 months of fully-paid family leave and 4 months of fully-paid caregiver leave, in addition to competitive salaries.
  • "So many women get off of the escalator to the top when they are in 30's and 40s grappling with small children at home and parents that need care," says Ramshaw.
  • "We believe those benefits and that flexibility is critical to keeping when on that path to the highest levels of leadership, and we want to prove that if you provide those things to women, you change the game."

The bottom line: "The best reporters and newsroom leaders are always going to be women," says Shah. "They're part of every story."

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