California’s 13.5 million residents under the age of 25—a number greater than the total population of 46 other states—don’t always see the issues that matter to them reflected in the media. How, for instance, has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the first-generation children of agricultural workers in Bakersfield? How will young California North Bay residents cope with devastating fires and poor air quality over the coming years? As part of California Humanities’ CA 2020: Youth Perspective and the Future of California Initiative, student-journalists at California community colleges worked not only to answer these questions through a series of in-depth reporting projects but to transform the state’s media landscape to reflect better the diverse, young population of the Golden State.

The Democracy and the Informed Citizen Emerging Journalist Fellowship program supports California community college student-journalists whose voices and perspectives remain underrepresented in the media. In 2020, eight community colleges from rural Northern California to the Mexico border region received $11,000 each to support fellowships for 31 student-journalists. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supported this program through the Federation of State Humanities Councils. It was part of California Humanities’ larger CA 2020: Youth Perspective and the Future of California Initiative.

The Emerging Journalist Fellowships represented “a yearlong partnership between California Humanities and community colleges designed to engage young Californians in consideration of the vital connections between journalism and democracy,” states John Lightfoot, Senior Program Officer at California Humanities. Overall, the fellowship program aimed “to incorporate the insight and perspective of journalists and the context and inquiry of the humanities, to develop critical journalism skills, and to encourage media literacy and civic engagement.”

Fellows worked individually and in cohorts to complete reporting projects of local or regional significance, which were then shared with audiences statewide. As fellows created their independent reporting projects—13 articles and podcasts shared with more than 500,000 people—they received stipends; professional mentorship; training, media literacy, new media technology; and membership in the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.

Rosa Yadira Contreras, an Emerging Journalist Fellow from Shasta College in Redding, is a single mother and first-generation immigrant who worked on a project with personal significance. She created an essay about how the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill has affected immigrant youth in California.

Emerging Journalist Fellow Maritza Camacho, from Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC), is a first-generation Latina college student who worked with three other fellows at SRJC to create a four-part podcast series, Chronic Catastrophe, about the long-term effects of fires and floods in the Sonoma County region.

While working on their reporting projects, fellows received mentorship and guidance from career journalists and attended California Humanities-organized events that focused on diversifying the media landscape. In addition, more than 800 community members and Emerging Journalist Fellows attended four public forums, including a popular panel about journalism and immigration featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario.

Several Emerging Journalist Fellows expressed appreciation for the CA 2020: Youth Perspective and the Future of California Initiative and its role in amplifying the voices and perspectives of underrepresented young Californians whose stories have historically gone untold.

“I feel like a lot of people think journalism is a lot about just reporting the facts, and that’s about it,” Camacho said. “And it is that, but it’s also telling the stories of people who can’t use their voice.”