State Senator Steve Glazer speaks before a crowd of supporter at Todos Santos Park in Concord, Sept. 9, 2017, following a march in support of DACA. (Photo/Dan Rosenstrauch)
State Senator Steve Glazer speaks before a crowd of supporter at Todos Santos Park in Concord, Sept. 9, 2017, following a march in support of DACA. (Photo/Dan Rosenstrauch)

East Bay Jewish lawmaker’s initiative a win for local journalism

A unique initiative championed by a Jewish East Bay state senator will invest $25 million in journalism across California, focusing on “news deserts,” or communities lacking in robust independent reporting.

The program is the result of efforts by Steve Glazer, a Democrat representing portions of Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and his staff. Glazer also sits on the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

Journalism “is critical to a functioning democracy,” Glazer said. “This initiative attempts to overcome the concerns about government interference in the media. It does this by supercharging journalistic endeavors that keep government and government leaders accountable for honest services.”

The program is funded by AB 179, or the Budget Act of 2022, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 6.

The initiative comes as communities across the United States, particularly in rural areas, continue to see local newspapers dwindle as a result of declining revenues, among other factors. According to research recently published by Northwestern University’s Medill School, roughly a quarter of American newspapers have disappeared since 2005 — about 2,500 publications — and by 2025, that loss is predicted to grow to one-third. “This is a crisis for our democracy and our society,” said the report, titled “The State of Local News.”

UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism will administer the new program, scheduled to roll out this spring. Funds will be available through fellowships to recent graduates working in communities across California.

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Up to 40 fellows will be selected to receive a $50,000 per year stipend for three years while they report on local news for underserved areas in California. The program is open to any graduate with a journalism portfolio. Further application criteria have yet to be established, but the school hopes to see fellows starting positions in summer 2023, said Steve Katz, assistant dean for advancement at Berkeley Journalism.

Glazer first proposed creating an independent commission to hand out fellowships, as well as to encourage “independent, local public service news coverage” via SB 911. When the legislation failed to advance in August, Glazer turned to Senate leadership to come up with another way to create the program. The senators chose Berkeley Journalism as a home for the program from a pool of other journalism schools in California.

“Berkeley had not only the interest and enthusiasm, but they had veteran leadership, a department that stood out and my confidence that they can advance this program in a thoughtful and impactful way,” Glazer said.

Katz noted that UC Berkeley has been looking for a way to support local journalism and its most recent graduates — who are increasingly coming to the school from first-generation households and communities not served by larger area newspapers — which the fellowship program does.

“[The program] could be a real game changer for journalism education across the state,” Katz said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity to put an on-the-ground solution in front of folks over the next few years, with really good, young, passionate reporters who can do wonderful work.”

Berkeley is currently the only university in the UC system with a graduate program in journalism. Alums have recently been recognized by the Pulitzer Prize board and been named the inaugural fellow in a collaboration between the Associated Press and the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. In 2020, Berkeley Journalism partnered with the New York Times on Covid-19 coverage in California.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene is a J. Staff Writer. Originally from Vermont, she has a BA in political science and an MA in journalism from Boston University. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsleygreene.