Women in Journalism: Q&A with Amanda Zamora
As an innovator and highly-skilled journalist, Amanda Zamora says being a part of The 19th, is a pleasing experience because there is a shared appreciation for acknowledging thoughtful processes.
“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to create a news organization where people understand why process and equity are synonymous,” she said.
I spoke with Zamora as part of Women in Journalism, a project published in Solution Set to shine a light on the successes and struggles of women working in news, highlight their stories and achievements, and share their words of wisdom to guide young women in the space toward finding their own success.
Zamora is the publisher and co-founder of The 19th. Zamora has nearly twenty years of experience as a digital editor, product manager, and audience strategist at newsrooms like the Texas Tribune, ProPublica and The Washington Post. She is currently a board member for The American Press Institute and Chicas Poderosas.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How do you feel women are represented in the business and development side of journalism? How do you think the business challenges facing the news industry have impacted the representation of women in your field?
I don’t have the statistics at my fingertips. But I know that women, particularly women of color, are vastly underrepresented when it comes to who is editing and assigning political news in this country. That’s one of the problems that we examined as we were making the case for creating The 19th, before we even knew that we would call it The 19th. In terms of the business impacts or pressures, we have seen so much of the news industry struggle, not just over the course of the pandemic. I graduated from the University of Texas School of Journalism in 2002. I was the first graduating class after 9/11, and that was the first really big contraction in the newspaper industry that I experienced as a journalist. So, I have only been in an industry that is struggling, to be honest, and trying to adapt and figure out how to grow audiences in this new digital landscape where we’re competing with all of these other platforms for people’s attention. Also, the economic pressures that go along with all of that and the impact on local news in particular cannot be understated.
That really makes a big, big difference in what we see happening now. With regard to our mission, it’s all about making politics and policy news more representative of and responsive to women and women of color and the LGBTQ+ community because we know that those groups are vastly underrepresented in U.S. newsrooms. It’s really hard to tackle that problem, if your newsroom is suffering from declines in revenue and struggling just to figure out how to make ends meet. One thing I think is happening is that in the course of the pandemic, many newsrooms have shuttered. We’ve also seen a lot of newsrooms come online. A lot of those newsrooms are serving communities at the margins, or who have been at the margins of mainstream media. Including The 19th, which was officially born in January of 2020, right before the pandemic and our full newsroom launched in August of that year. We’re also seeing newsrooms such as Capital B that just launched recently, Poynter just put out something — they rounded up all of the newsrooms that had launched across the country and it’s more than 70, many of those are also in Texas and where I live in Austin. Be that as one here in my hometown, started by a Latina, a journalist who saw a need for more coverage about her community and stepped up and just launched it. That’s a little bit of the lay of the land in terms of why representation is such an important part of our mission. We know what’s happening on the news landscape writ large.
What point in your career was the most difficult for you? And how did it affect the way you think about the journalism field now and how it’s going?
There have been lots of inflection points in my career, but I will say the year that we were in that included the murder of George Floyd and the January 6 insurrection … as someone who is leading in this capacity of trying to create a newsroom that solves some of these problems and serves these communities in new ways — I think I just will never be the same. To do that, just being more comfortable inhabiting my own identity has been a big growing point for me. It’s not something that I necessarily learned to do in nearly two decades of journalism, where you were expected to leave your identity at the door when you came in to do the work. That’s been a real challenge, but I’m really grateful for Emily and our entire team. I think we are trying to figure out what it means to build a newsroom that has that kind of culture of diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality. One that translates into the journalism that we hope is nuanced, complex and really tries to get beyond the one dimensional headlines or coverage that we’re accustomed to seeing in mainstream political news.
Do you feel like that is changing a bit?
I do think that the coverage is being disrupted, yes. I think there’s a lot more willingness to have a conversation about what objectivity means and acknowledging that our first job is to tell the truth. For example, one of the things that we did in early 2021, we changed our mission statement. We had described ourselves as a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom, and also a newsroom that centers women, women of color, and LGBTQ+ folks, just to acknowledge that. Also, to be named after the 19th Amendment, which is all about suffrage and voting rights. Voting rights is such a political bomb right now in this country. The truth is voting rights are an important issue. It is something that not everyone has equal access to still to this day, we are going to report those facts. That does not make us partisan. It makes us truth-tellers.
I think that conversation around objectivity and just acknowledging the importance of newsrooms standing for something, even, the fact that I’m saying standing for democracy right now is even something that people would question or think that there’s a discussion to be had there. That’s actually a discussion that we need to have. It’s crazy to me, but yes, I do think that there are conversations that are essential that are being held. I don’t always see it necessarily translating into the headlines. I think that it’s a work in progress andI’m heartened to see more journalists of color empowered. When they’re not able to get those headlines written or stories assigned in the newsrooms that they’re in, there’s more and more options for them coming online hopefully, with independent media, nonprofit media, and all of these new digital startups. We’ll see — we’re kind of in the middle of it. I don’t know, I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I will say that I maintain a lot of hope and I am committed to being the best professional pain in the ass that I can be to do my part to help change the game.
Women often face a number of unique challenges in professional settings. What are some challenges you faced in your career and are there any sacrifices you’ve had to make that your male counterparts may not have had to?
One common pattern for me in my career, I have often been the person who wanted to create a process to establish a method to the madness to manage the project. To get people organized, to get people on the same page, and often hit a lot of resistance from male, white male, colleagues more often than not, who did not want to be bothered to think about things like process or to have to re-examine their own process. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to create a news organization where people understand why process and equity are synonymous. If you don’t have a transparent process, there is no way that you’re going to have a chance at real equity, period. How decisions get made, how the work gets done, who is able to contribute and participate — a baseline process that is clear to people that they understand how everyone is going to have an equal opportunity to participate to the full extent that they should be able to.
What ways has being a woman has been advantageous or helpful to the way you approach your work?
I will say that I think, not just as a woman, but as a woman who has gathered a team of racially diverse, gender diverse people, all of us come to work as people who want to bring our lived experiences to the work, who want to feel valued. Accuracy, credibility, civility, excellence, and independence — those are values that we’re accustomed to hearing about describing the news and journalism and the craft of journalism. Those are values that we adhere to and that we stipulate in our employee handbook. Additionally, we talk about diversity and equity and community, kindness, empathy, transparency — not just in making a correction on a story when we make a mistake, but transparency internally, with our team, with our readers about how we make decisions.
Would you say that your past experiences that were not so great, has shaped the way you look at The 19th and what you want to accomplish with it?
Of course, I think I think that’s true for me and for everyone on our team. We can think about stories that we pitch that were minimized, we can think about working on projects or on stories with our colleagues and feeling humiliated. We can think about the times that we were just told no, without any real explanation. There’s so much and I think we talk about that too, as a team and just recognizing that, yes, we have the opportunity to do better. But we also have the opportunity, and actually, there’s this imperative to also set aside some of that baggage, to acknowledge that we’re not in those spaces anymore. We have this team with a shared mission and vision and hopefully we get to give each other the benefit of the doubt and recognize that the adversarial relationship or dynamic that we may have come from is not necessarily the one that we have to assume here. Feeling more like we’re collaborators in building this thing together versus feeling like we have to fight as hard as we did in the places that we came from.
Do you mentor other women? What’s your approach to mentorship?
The most common is probably just speaking to journalism students — these are my favorite speaking events to do, in all honesty. This is the generation that’s going to be creating new story forms, new business models, new ways of building trust and relationships with audiences without all of the baggage of legacy media. Any chance I am able to engage with students I take. Emma Carew Grovum is also a total inspiration on this front, and with her encouragement, I started holding office hours for free “LinkedIn makeovers” shortly after the pandemic started. It’s been a great way to meet journalists I might not have the opportunity to otherwise, and something I’m hoping to do more of as the firehose of startup mode settles down a bit more.
Publishers are looking for new, sustainable business practices given the ever-changing nature of the journalism industry. In what ways do you think business changes can lead to cultural changes within the industry? How do you see yourself taking advantage of these changes to create a more equitable environment for women in journalism?
The rise of nonprofit news organizations is creating more opportunities for smaller publishers to serve niche audiences without the same growth pressures that come with for-profit models. Investment from foundations and philanthropic institutions is particularly critical in the local news space, where we see a direct connection between a community’s level of civic engagement and the health of local news organizations. That being said, there needs to be more resourcing in newsrooms for the kind of professional development, benefits and operational support that our teams need to feel supported in their work — particularly [for] women and folks from marginalized communities. When newsrooms are struggling to stave off layoffs and cutbacks, these are often the first things to get cut from budgets. But they’re also important for the long term sustainability of our news organizations.
What do you hope for the next generation of young women entering the journalism field? What would you like that space to be like?
My hope for the next generation, including women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ journalists, is that they have to fight less within their own news organizations to be seen and heard, to be compensated fairly and to be valued as whole people. We have so much hard work to tackle around the journalism itself, holding the powerful to account, examining systemic inequities and unearthing solutions to these problems, ensuring that communities see themselves fully in our coverage. I just hope we manage to make our newsrooms safer and more supportive places for the next generation of journalists to be doing their best work without so much internal opposition and strife. We can’t live our values through headlines alone. We live them in the ways we go about doing the work. This generation of journalists knows this and wants to see our values better aligned with their experience in this industry.