People of the Year 2013 | Emily Ramshaw

Editor, The Texas Tribune

How a D.C. girl found "the greatest journalism job in America" in the Lone Star State.

“This sounds cheesy,” Emily Ramshaw is saying. “But for me, journalism never really seemed like a job. It seemed like a calling.”

For the Texas Tribune editor, being a journalist isn’t just a passion; it’s a biography.

Born to journalist parents in Washington D.C.—her mother was a reporter and editor and father a television news reporter—Ramshaw, who has been with the Tribune since it started in 2009, attended J-school at Northwestern and “never considered any career other than this.” After graduation, she landed a job at The Dallas Morning News and, sight unseen, moved to Texas, where she covered City Hall for the paper before transferring to Austin to cover the State Capitol where, as she puts it, she “fell in love with Texas politics.”

Then, four years ago, Evan Smith and Ross Ramsay approached her with an interesting proposal: They were staring a new project and wanted her to come aboard. “Newspapers were in incredible turmoil,” she explains. “The Texas Tribune seemed like an opportunity to blend incredible, established journalism with an Austin tech startup. For me, that was an incredibly thrilling proposition.”

For Evan Smith, the decision to hire Ramshaw from the get-go was a no-brainer. When theTribune started to draft its “fantasy baseball league” of initial reporter hires, Emily’s name was “on everyone’s list of political journalists who were simultaneously admired, resented, and feared,” he explains. “Everyone in the press corps knew her and heard her footsteps.”

During the Tribune’s first two years of operation, Ramshaw was a reporter on the ground, covering Rick Perry on the presidential campaign trail. Since 2011, she’s been the site’s editor, overseeing a team of about 25 reporters, artists, and technologists. “I spend a lot of time doing things I never thought I would do as a journalist,” Ramshaw explains. From planning new products that will help make additional revenue for the Tribune, to coming up with innovative ways to engage readers, it is, as she puts it, “a brave new world.”

This uncertainty of venturing into untreaded territory is largely what has made the Tribunesuch a successful product. In October, the site won a “General Excellence in Online Journalism” award from the Online News Association, following a year of making news accessible and public in trailblazing ways. In June, after setting up a live YouTube channel for the state legislative session, the Tribune’s streaming of Senator Wendy Davis’ eleven-hour filibuster of an anti-abortion bill went viral, with more than 183,000 people tuning in from 187 countries. Leading into 2014, the Tribune plans to live-stream much of the upcoming election season, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $65,000 to cast an unfiltered lens on the gubernatorial race, and ultimately to make live-streaming of politics “the new norm.”

These are few among a variety of big projects the site will be rolling out in the next year, which range from launching a user-generated, issue-based op-ed site to generating more concerted e-newsletters on a range of topics like water, public education, and transportation. As Ramshaw sees it, the bottom line is “reaching as many people as humanely possible,” be it through online streams, grassroots efforts to spread reporters to all corners of the state, or partnerships with other publications (Texas editions of The New York Times publish select Tribune articles each week and state newspapers also have the option to republish its stories).

“Texas is the gift that keeps giving,” Ramshaw says. “We have benefited an enormous amount because of the news that keeps coming out of this state. We’re in a humongous state where population trends are what people expect the rest of the country will look like.” As a recent TIME cover story phrased it, “Texas is America’s future.” And contextualizing this future, and the issues at the front of it—surging population, demographic shifts, natural resources, education, and access to healthcare—is, from the border to UT, what state readers are owed, Ramshaw says.

According to Smith, it’s this combination of problem-solving and gumption that has defined both the site and Ramshaw’s role in it. “The way I see it, the people you hire can fall into two camps,” he says. “There are the people who have their head down and do the job they are given and then there are the people who do that and then, if given the opportunity, show they are capable of more…they carry the vision even further. Emily had ideas that were not mine or anyone else’s about how to make the Tribune better and take it to another place. We’re better for her and Texas is better for her.”

Yet for Emily, who just crossed her ten-year Texas anniversary, it’s all in a day’s work. “I am so lucky,” she says. “I have the greatest journalism job in America, and I get to do it in Austin. It doesn’t get much better than that.”


Photography by Randal Ford


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