Amanda Zamora. Photo by Vanessa Cerday.

Q&A: Amanda Zamora on advocating for the humanity of audiences with collaborative journalism

Will Fischer
7 min readMay 9, 2024

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Amanda Zamora co-founded and serves as a strategic adviser for The 19th, a nonprofit news outlet focused on gender, politics, and policy.

Zamora helped launch The 19th News Network early this year to advance the publication’s efforts to elevate the voices of women and LGBTQ+ Americans from diverse backgrounds.

We caught up with Zamora to hear about how The 19th collaborates and her journey in audience engagement and collaborative journalism.

WF: How did you get started in journalism?

AZ: I’ve been in journalism since my undergraduate days at the University of Texas. I went to journalism school there and graduated in 2002. I started out as a print journalist, and the first half of my career was a lot about switching from print to digital. I accidentally fell into my first digital job and spent the first decade of my career doing reporting, digital editing, and production at The Washington Post. I made a shift around 2008 to more audience-focused work when I was on the Kiplinger Fellowship in public affairs journalism. That was when Twitter was taking root and I was able to observe the 2008 presidential election from that lens, being able to see how news was happening on Twitter.

That was my lightbulb moment in seeing how these platforms could be a part of our news gathering process. When I went back to The Washington Post, I was their first social media editor. I helped develop their strategy for social distribution and storytelling. After that, I went on to be a senior engagement editor at ProPublica. That was exciting because I got to use these social platforms to involve audiences more in the investigative journalism process. At ProPublica, I focused on making the news more participatory.

WF: How did you start to view audience engagement as a more participatory and collaborative form of journalism?

AZ: When I learned how to leverage audience tools at The Washington Post, the focus was mostly on distribution at first. It’s important to understand the levers of the platform and how to adapt your content so that it’s successful. But you’re really missing an opportunity if you’re not looking at all of those followers as real human beings who might have something to contribute to your storytelling. As soon as I understood the potential at ProPublica, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just seen as a marketer or distributor, I really wanted to figure out how to think about audiences as real people who we are intentionally trying to engage in the journalism, and how to build relationships with those folks.

Then, at The Texas Tribune, I started working with editors and reporters on community-first storytelling. How could we do politics and policy journalism that was more action-oriented? If we’re going to cover the family separation crisis, or Hurricane Harvey, we could also publish a list of resources for people who are trying to help. Just creating more service journalism that helps readers and community members take action or solve problems, instead of having this remove from the audience and thinking that you’re only going to be reporting about issues or about people. The shift is when you think about writing for people and making your journalism as useful as possible.

WF: What made you want to start a new publication with The 19th?

AZ: Emily Ramshaw, our editor-in-chief at The Texas Tribune, surprised me with this idea to start a newsroom that was focused on women in politics. That was inspired by her observing how the 2016 presidential election unfolded, having just given birth to her daughter and thinking about how gendered the coverage was. I asked her if we could make sure that it would be for the women’s electorate and all of its diversity, too. I am Latina, a Mexican-American, who presents as White and people make assumptions about me based on my appearance, but my lived experience is actually quite different. I was always looking to see that better reflected in the news.

That was my framing, and we agreed to it and started to figure out how we could create a platform and a business model. That’s how The 19th was born — not just focusing on women, it’s for anyone who remains marginalized or disenfranchised, whether it’s at the ballot box or anywhere else. We’re going on five years now and it’s grown quite a bit. It’s an essential resource for anyone who wants to see their lived experiences reflected in political journalism.

WF: How does The 19th think about collaborative journalism, partnerships, and audience engagement?

AZ: Community was the biggest piece of our launch. I didn’t want to just think of our audience as an anonymous set of clicks, but really trying to be intentional about naming our audience and doing whatever we could to give them something that reflected their needs and input. We also wanted to make sure that we were the type of organization that would be communicative and responsive to our audience. That community ethos has been a part of The 19th from day one. Our reporters and editors ask what you think and they respond to you — our journalism is community-first and that’s our bread-and-butter.

The partnerships have really evolved to be more of a two-way street. Originally, the partnerships were focused a lot on distribution, which is something we did a lot at ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. All of our content is free to read and re-publish, because we want to make sure it’s accessible and in the public interest. The 19th News Network takes that approach to partnerships and makes it much more aligned with our community strategy. Instead of it just being about distribution of our stories, we are interested in featuring the stories of our partner members, and we’re working together with other news organizations who are equally invested in advancing racial and gender equity in their journalism. We’re also looking for ways to collaborate with those publishers to tell stories that we might not be able to tell otherwise.

WF: Why did you feel that it was necessary to launch a news network at this time?

AZ: We wanted to think more about partnerships that were mutually beneficial, and provided value for partners, not just The 19th. I’ve also been seeing so much good journalism at the state and local level, and we have a platform to elevate that, and point our audience to mission-aligned news organizations that they might want to be following. We saw a leadership opportunity to shine a light on other incredible journalism that speaks to our mission, and look for ways to collaborate, which we’ll be doing a lot more of in the lead-up to the 2024 election.

If we’re trying to serve women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks, we want to be really intentional about what publications we’re working with and who is also serving those audiences. We need to think about who we’re serving and the composition of our audience, not just how many people or the scale. In our first couple of years, the set of partners we had were about 70% national outlets, and we’ve shifted that, so that more than half of our partners now represent state and local newsrooms. We want to make sure that we’re bolstering the kind of journalism that people can and should rely on at the state and local level. We want to be part of the solution there.

There are so many new outlets that are led by BIPOC or LGBTQ+ folks. These are people that have lived through the pandemic and seen that their communities are not being represented, their needs are not being met, and they’re starting things up — we want to help those publishers. It’s hard to survive, and if we’re all going to have a fight in the game, we need to make sure that those folks have the support and capacity they need.

WF: Overall, what’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in journalism?

AZ: I was born as a journalist in disruption. I think a lot of times we can get really overwhelmed by the emergence of new technology or platforms. We forget that the most important thing we can do is really understand the humanity of our audiences and how we might build meaningful, authentic relationships with real human beings. The minute that we think of our audiences in the abstract is when we begin to lose them. That’s the most fundamental lesson that we keep forgetting as journalists, because we get fixated on how to adapt ourselves to a new platform, and we focus too much on metrics and not enough on the people at the core of our work.

Will Fischer is a journalist covering the intersection of technology and media. He’s worked for Business Insider and New York magazine and conducted local news research for City Bureau. Follow Will on Twitter @willfisch15 or email him at willfisch15@gmail.com.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism and support an informed society in New Jersey and beyond. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, the Independence Public Media Foundation, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For more information, visit centerforcooperativemedia.org.

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Will Fischer
Center for Cooperative Media

I write about collaborative journalism and local media ecosystems. Follow me on Twitter @willfisch15 or email me at willfisch15@gmail.com.