As the editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, Emily Ramshaw is on the cutting edge of the nonprofit-journalism model and at the helm of one of the most successful newsrooms in the nation. As a leader and a mom, she is proving having it all together is overrated and that there’s value in vulnerability.
At 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Emily Ramshaw is upside down—literally. Her hands firmly planted on the ground, she inches her Outdoor Voices-clad legs up the wall as her toddler looks on, not fully convinced she should join Mommy. Soon, the two switch places, toddler legs up in the air with her mom guiding them.
This June morning at The Little Yoga House, there are five moms with their toddlers. Throughout the room, moms are upside down or flipping their toddlers upside down, singing along to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Some are regulars. Some, like Ramshaw and her daughter, are first-timers. One mom takes her daughter regularly, supplementing the yoga the girl learns in preschool. Another mom chimes in, saying her child’s preschool encourages similar techniques with breathing lessons and exercises to identify emotions.
Despite Miss Meg’s best efforts, her students do less emotional work and more running around the room, alternating between shrieks of joy and shrieks of frustration. The moms, however, are A-plus students, quickly identifying their spirit animals, gamely playing Ring Around the Poses and folding themselves into unicorn pose and turtle pose. Ramshaw’s daughter is content to watch her peers while munching on a Lärabar, but by the end of the class, she’s performing downward dog with the best of them.
After a closing namaste singalong, Miss Meg opens the door, releasing the toddlers like a pack of puppies into the accompanying play area. Did the class stretch their growing limbs, provide an outlet for their boundless energy and bring Zen to their little minds? Who knows, but it is incredibly adorable.
After a child handoff to her husband, Ramshaw heads off to get a facial. She’s had a busy week. As the editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, she finished overseeing the publication of a slew of stories ranging from the vaccine crisis to what bills passed during the legislative session, briefly sparred with Gov. Greg Abbott on Twitter about faulty state-published data, taped a podcast and had her daughter projectile vomit all over her and the car on the way to day care.
If you Google “Emily Ramshaw,” two women pop up, forever locked in the battle of search engine optimization. The other Emily Ramshaw (the “hotter, younger” woman, according to The Tribune’s Ramshaw) works for dating app Bumble in Canada and is also an editor. So, if you stumble upon a beauty-product review or fashion editorial by Emily Ramshaw, know that the editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune is not a closeted fashion freelance writer, but the two Ramshaws switching lives for a week à la Freaky Friday would make for an instant success on Netflix.
The Ramshaw of The Texas Tribune has been training for her current role her whole life. She grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the daughter of two high-profile reporters, and followed in her parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps by attending Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and U.S. history.
“Honestly, I grew up with two parents who were political journalists who were in the middle of every presidential campaign and every war and every major decision on Capitol Hill, and their careers were thrilling,” Ramshaw says. “I think it was in my DNA; it was in my bloodstream. And the moment I knew that I could pursue journalism, it was the path that I chose.”
After a string of internships ending at The Dallas Morning News, she graduated with a job offer from the Dallas publication and moved to Texas. She was met with questions like, “What are you doing?” “How long will you be gone?” and “When are you coming back?” from her East Coast friends, but Texas and Ramshaw got along just fine. She quickly fought her way up the ranks, working night shifts then coming in the following days, continuously pitching articles and fighting for front-page stories. From covering the cop beat at night to city-council meetings, she was willing to write about anything and everything, and caught the politics bug after getting assigned to cover city hall. Through her investigative reporting, she exposed sexual abuse in juvenile detention centers and went undercover in a polygamous West Texas cult.
“I love the horse race. I love the personalities. I love the negotiations,” Ramshaw says. “Maybe what I love most of all are the strange bedfellows. I thought before I came to Texas everything was black and white, everything was red or blue. … So, I find Texas politics to be delicious.”
Her sharp reporting and grit caught the eye of then Texas Monthly Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. In the oft-repeated origin story of The Tribune, Smith and Ross Ramsey created the “equivalent of a fantasy baseball draft list” of reporters they wanted for their new digital-based news nonprofit. Ramshaw was at the top of the list.
When the opportunity came to join a team of well-known Texas journalists and reinvent the business model of journalism, Ramshaw was ready to jump. By 2009, when she left The Dallas Morning News, daily regional newspapers were laying off staff members in droves and the Great Recession was in motion. Ramshaw had already considered law school but two failed LSATs primed her to join The Tribune. For her, it was riskier to stay than leave traditional journalism.
The risk paid off. The Tribune’s nonprofit model is now one of the leading national examples of how journalism can move forward in an age of increasing layoffs and paradigm shifts. With a diversified stream of revenue—major gifts, foundation support, individual member donations, events and corporate sponsorship—and extreme transparency (visitors can see The Tribune’s strategic plan through 2025, staff salaries, donor contributions and more on its website), the long-held separation between journalists and the accounting department dissolved. The journalists, Ramshaw says, are responsible for the financial bottom line, and she believes that makes them stronger, more creative, more invested reporters.
The Tribune has grown to include almost 70 staff members at its downtown Austin headquarters and Washington, D.C., Dallas and El Paso, Texas, bureaus. The staff produces more than 50 events per year, including its annual Texas Tribune Fest, a political festival featuring high-profile Texas and national politicians and thought leaders from both sides of the aisle, everyone from John Kerry to Sen. Ted Cruz. (Ramshaw is still holding out for Beyoncé.) The publication’s articles are nationally syndicated, and when Texans run for president or make headlines, the national gaze shifts to Texas and to The Tribune.
As the migrant border crisis reached a feverish peak in June, The Tribune’s coverage went viral on social media, its story about migrant detention centers turning down donated hygiene products retweeted more than 16,000 times. Politicians and journalists throughout the country regularly point to the publication’s coverage.
For Ramshaw, though, the moment she knew The Tribune had truly made it was in 2016, when she received a phone call while in the parking lot of Cherrywood Coffeehouse notifying her she had been nominated to the board of the Pulitzer Prize. Her first reaction was disbelief (“Is this a prank?”), her second, pride.
“It was the greatest honor of my career to be selected, and more important than that, it signified that The Texas Tribune was really, truly on the map,” Ramshaw says. “If they wanted someone on the 18-member board of the Pulitzer Prize who represented a scrappy, nonprofit digital news startup in the center of the United States, it meant that The Texas Tribune had made it. For me, that was the best part of it all.”
Under Ramshaw’s leadership, The Tribune had made it. Regardless of whether she saw leadership potential in herself when she joined the team, Smith always had.
“The generational moment for journalism is now. The overturning of the mulch is now. And Emily is the absolute leading edge of that in Texas and nationally,” Smith says. “I think if you asked around the country who are the most important women in media, not just news and not just in Texas, her name would be on anybody’s list. And the reason is she has demonstrated over and over and over that she has absolutely perfect judgment, that she is a terrific journalist and a great and inspiring leader that people want to follow. … We would not be here but for her. We will not be where we go next but for her.”
In 2019, female-led newsrooms are still rare. Smith offered Ramshaw the position of editor-in-chief in 2016, while she was on maternity leave, a decision she describes as a “pretty bold move to say to a woman who has giant black circles under her eyes, is covered in spit up and hasn’t slept for, like, three months.”
In 2017, the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies explored the persistent trend of more women than men graduating from journalism schools but a subsequent lack of female representation in the industry. Numbers haven’t improved much in the past two years, with a 2019 Women’s Media Center study reporting men write 60 percent of online news and 59 percent of print news and represent 63 percent of prime-time anchors and correspondents.
Globally, violence against female journalists is prevalent. In its 2018 study Attacks and Harassment: The Impact on Female Journalists and Their Reporting, the International Women’s Media Foundation found “nearly one-third of female journalists consider leaving their profession due to online attacks and threats.”
ProPublica and New York Times Magazine reporter Pamela Colloff tweeted, “One of the great things about officing at the @TexasTribune is that I get to walk through a female-led newsroom every day. Editor-in-Chief @eramshaw—journalist extraordinaire + mother of a toddler—sets the tone. Put more women in charge and this will be less of a problem,” she noted, referencing a Columbia Journalism Review article citing the news industry as “notoriously hard on moms.”
When Ramshaw returned to work after maternity leave, she was suddenly in charge of a newsroom and an infant. Her daughter wouldn’t take to a bottle, so she nursed in her office, her nanny driving back and forth throughout the day for feedings. Some days, it was hard to even get off the couch.
About 10 months after giving birth, she tweeted, “I fell into darkness after having a baby this year. Took months to climb out. I should’ve asked for help sooner.”
She had joined a large sorority of working moms, her initiation involving pumping at work behind curtained windows, scrambling when the babysitter is sick, working through cries, changing plans when her daughter projectile vomits on her in the car. If journalists are “servants and slaves of information,” as Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya once wrote, then journalists with infants are doubly enslaved.
When Ramshaw was pregnant, she turned to journalists Katy Vine and Colloff, both then with Texas Monthly and working moms. She remembers their advice as being invaluable as she prepared to become a mom. Vine and Colloff don’t remember offering anything extraordinary to Ramshaw, but their presence alone was significant, proof it could be done.
When Colloff was pregnant with her first child, she remembers fearing her career as an investigative reporter would be over.
“I think what’s changed is that people are very open and candid about raising children now on social media, and Emily certainly is, whereas I remember when I had my son, which is almost 12 years ago, that I felt like that was something I sort of needed to hide if I was going to be taken seriously, whereas now, serious journalists post baby pictures all the time,” Colloff says.
Economist Emily Oster recently wrote in The Atlantic about the trend of “secret planning” and how it affects parents in any given industry.
“When work and parenting seem at odds—because our culture tells us they’re at odds—mothers and fathers feel forced to demonstrate their commitment to one (the work side) by minimizing their concern for the other (the parenting side),” she wrote.
Unlike the decades of women who went before her and toed the line of strict separation between parenting and reporting, Ramshaw regularly takes to Twitter to share the lows (and highs) of learning to be a mom. Her Twitter bio cuts to the chase: “Balancing a toddler and a newsroom with only occasional grace.”
When Ramshaw first began tweeting more openly about her daughter, she was surprised by how much engagement her tweets generated. Now she’s known for her “parenting fail” tweets, which her followers often correctly point out are not fails, but the experiences of parents everywhere.
One recent donation to The Tribune was made in honor of “Emily Ramshaw’s kid tweets.” When Ramshaw was at the playground earlier this year, she saw Greg Fenves, the president of the University of Texas, and approached him expecting to talk shop. Instead, he told her how much he loved her parenting tweets.
Ramshaw has found her digital sweet spot: hard news mixed with stories of mistakenly pulling her daughter’s underwear from her purse instead of a business card.
What could have been perceived as a professional weakness became a professional strength, in some cases literally generating income.
While social media can lead to bullying and toxicity, it simultaneously rewards vulnerability, serving as a powerful conduit for connection and reassurance. In this case, it provides reassurance that all toddlers are equally adorable and exhausting.
Social media also serves as a platform to elevate the work of women. As prospective moms worrying about their journalism careers can look to women like Ramshaw on Twitter to know they are not alone, women graduating from journalism school and looking upon a bleak job market can see a vast network of women performing the work they dream of.
“It feels like women are supporting each other’s work more online and promoting each other’s work,” Vine says.
Chipping away at the phenomenon of “fake news” and perceived declining credibility of journalists is a “persistence game,” she says. Journalists doing the hard “work to be well-sourced to have enough sources and good sources and to know the difference between good and bad” will earn their stay.
The Tribune is known for its trailblazing in the nonprofit-journalism sphere, but a contributing element of its success not discussed enough is Ramshaw’s vulnerability as a leader. While some of her tweets are lighthearted, she’s doing more than making people chuckle as they pause in the endless scroll; she’s offering them space for shared human experience. She’s reminding people she’s a real person, reminding people who might otherwise think she’s “fake news.” As the editor-in-chief of a successful political-news organization and a member of an exclusive, prestigious board, Ramshaw could be intimidating. But if Twitter is the modern window into the soul, Ramshaw is just like you: She’s a devoted—and tired—mom who loves her husband and cares deeply about the same issues you do. She is warm and kind and humble.
Above Ramshaw’s standing desk in her office, the message “The closer you are to people, the better you can serve them” is scrawled on a whiteboard. She lives close. Her love for The Tribune and its staff runs deep; she’s emotionally invested in the stories they tell and the readers who receive them.
“Many of our reporters’ stories moved me to tears, still move me to tears,” she says. “And as painful as experiencing those stories is and reporting those stories and editing those stories is, it’s so crucial we don’t lose our humanity as we tell those stories.”
Before social media, Ramshaw had a more immediate role model: her own mom. “She busted through the glass ceiling,” Ramshaw says. “She’s a total badass and she was just a crucial reminder to me that you could have a family and a phenomenal career, and you didn’t have to choose.”
Her mom started in the women’s section of a newspaper and worked her way up to an editor position at a major daily newspaper. Ramshaw says she still vividly remembers calling her one day while in middle school in search of her soccer cleats. Her mom, in the middle of a breaking news story, paused the newsroom to help her daughter. When Ramshaw was in high school, her mom took Wednesdays off to make sure she was home with her daughters. Those memories guide Ramshaw now as she parents and leads.
Besides helping her gain followers, Ramshaw credits her daughter with helping her be a better boss. Before, she had no boundaries, working through the weekend, her phone always nearby. Now, she’s strict about leaving the office in time for dinner and bedtime, and the phone goes in the other room. She also gives her employees four months of parental leave: three months paid, one month unpaid, all four with job protection.
“That’s probably a dirty little secret. … I didn’t have the patience I needed to have for parents before I had Sophie,” Ramshaw says. “I didn’t have the separation between home and work, the work/life balance that I think truly makes you a better employee, not to mention a better human being. She’s made me see leadership in a different way, and I think she’s turned me into the kind of boss that people really want to work for.”
Ramshaw wakes up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. every day and catches up on the news before her daughter wakes up, which triggers the flurry of getting two adults and a toddler to work and day care on time. Ramshaw then spends her day in meetings and podcasts, tracking the news, tracking how many migrant children are separated from their parents. Then she goes home to her own child, tending to dinner and the dog and bath time. Sometimes she gets back online to keep working after her daughter falls asleep or she watches TV with her husband.
The cadence of her life ebbs and flows with the news cycle, but Ramshaw’s feet are firmly planted, stones in her hand ready to create ripples.
Fifth & West is a 39-story residential tower making waves in the Market District of Austin. The unique, triangular design holds 154 luxury condominiums offering views of the Capital Corridor, rolling West Lake Hills, Lady Bird Lake and Austin’s downtown skyline. The interior common areas are beautifully designed by the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture to capture the spirit and soul of Austin. Resort-style amenities include a wet deck, chef’s kitchen, fitness center, yoga studio, guest suites, community room and an open-air pet veranda overlooking Fifth Street. Fifth & West has become a vibrant community of residents and their beloved four-legged friends since it opened in December 2018. 5thandwest.com
Theory military trench, $795; Kendra Scott necklace, stylist’s own.
Theory Nappa leather menswear shirt, $895; J Brand Maria high-rise skinny jeans, $228; Kendra Scott earrings, stylist’s own.
Theory light charmeuse shirred yoke shirt, $255; Kendra Scott earrings and necklace, stylist’s own.
Theory silk combo ribbed-waist dress, $395; Kendra Scott earrings, stylist’s own.
All clothing available at Theory, 11624 Rock Rose Ave., theory.com.