INDEPENDENT LENS: Breaking The News
Premieres Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / PBS App + YouTube
INDEPENDENT LENS presents the premiere of “Breaking the News,” the critically-acclaimed and crowd-pleasing documentary by Heather Courtney (“Where Soldiers Come From”), Princess A. Hairston (“Ladies First: A Story Of Women In Hip-Hop”), Chelsea Hernandez (“Building The American Dream”), and Diane M. Quon (“Minding the Gap”).
The feature documentary takes the viewer inside the newsroom as a group of women and LGBTQ+ journalists launch a digital news startup seeking to buck the white-male status quo of U.S. newsrooms.
“Breaking the News” follows the launch of The 19th*, a news startup that seeks to change the white, male-dominated news industry, asking who’s been omitted from mainstream coverage and how to include them. Bringing the viewer right into the newsroom during tense moments as the startup launches in a pandemic amid rising social unrest, the film provides an inside view of what it takes to challenge the status quo and break the mold in American media.
Shot over three years, the film documents the honest discussions at The 19th* around race and gender equity, revealing that change doesn’t come easy, and showcases how they confront these challenges both as a workplace and in their journalism. But this film is about more than a newsroom; it’s about America in flux and the voices that are often left out of the American story.
With reporters spread across the country, The 19th* Co-Founders Emily Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora and their team cover national politics and policy from the lens of gender and race. Philadelphia-based editor-at-large Errin Haines covers politics and often breaks major stories, including the first national story on the killing of Breonna Taylor. Latina reporter Chabeli Carrazana is based in Florida and reports on gender and the economy. Kate Sosin leads coverage on LGBTQ+ stories, including the increase of anti-trans bills being passed by states all over the country.
Despite best intentions, The 19th* struggles with its own blind spots, as illustrated by Sosin who identifies as nonbinary and pushes for wider gender diversity within the newsroom. They’re often frustrated by the lack of inclusive coverage and language being used at The 19th*, at times feeling burnt out by the additional labor of educating their colleagues.
“Breaking the News” highlights these tough conversations, as well as those around racial inclusivity throughout rising tensions in 2020 and beyond, showing how they reshaped the organizational culture and editorial direction.
“For far too long, white men have dictated which stories make the news and which voices are included. The 19th* is writing a new history by reporting the news through the lens of those forgotten voices, and showcasing that bringing lived experiences and diverse perspectives to the news industry is crucial, even if it is not an easy venture,” said co-directors Heather Courtney, Princess A. Hairston, and Chelsea Hernandez. “As the story developed—from the pandemic, to the 2020 election, to the watershed coverage of Roe vs. Wade—we were continually inspired by The 19th*’s perseverance and openness, and we hope those who watch the film will be inspired too, to have open discussions, and make change.”
“It’s one thing to talk about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion; it’s another thing to take the actions necessary to build a diverse team and true equity. We hope The 19th* can be a model for other newsrooms, and workplaces in general, to not be afraid to make change, and to not be afraid to mess up sometimes during the journey.”
Credits: Director/Producer: Heather Courtney. Director/Producer: Princess A. Hairston. Director/Producer: Chelsea Hernandez. Producer: Diane Quon. Executive Producers: Sally Jo Fifer, Lois Vossen. Keith Maitland. Sarah Wilson. Jacqueline Olive. Nico Opper, Shizuka Asakawa and Ken Pelletier.
“‘Breaking the News’ illustrates the importance of independent journalism in a functioning democracy by showing how and who decides what stories become the news,” said Lois Vossen, INDEPENDENT LENS executive producer. “The 19th* features reporting by women and LGBTQ+ journalists in their effort to disrupt homogenization inside newsrooms. With that same spirit of disruption, filmmakers Heather, Princess, and Chelsea document how this startup became a provider of news to the rest of the industry—an industry that is struggling with cutbacks and an increased cynicism from readers as they question where the news comes from.”