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Inside CALmatters

CALmatters is pleased to announce three new additions to our Sacramento-based team, starting in January. Since our launch in 2015, the new positions will grow CALmatters’ total staff to 18 full time members. The jobs — for social media, videography and higher education coverage — will expand CALmatters’ coverage and improve our ability to explain important state issues through new storytelling formats.

“This is a big boost for CALmatters to attract top-level talent with the cutting-edge expertise it takes to communicate in today’s rapidly changing media landscape,” said David Lesher, editor, CEO and co-founder of CALmatters. “We are grateful to the donors who make this work possible and who support our non-profit mission to increase awareness, accountability and transparency about the major issues in California.”

Meet the new team members:

Byrhonda Lyons will produce video journalism at CALmatters. She developed social media strategies and video content that significantly increased traffic for environmental government agencies in California and Montana. She is the creator and host of a podcast on American history and former morning drive host on public radio in Montana. She was a writer and editor for publications in Oakland and in San Quentin state prison. She has a masters degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.

Felicia Mello will cover higher education for CALmatters. She is an award-winning, multimedia journalist with experience producing stories online, in newspaper and magazine print publications and on radio. She was an editor at and director of an online publication in Las Vegas. Her freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, the LA Times Magazine and National Public Radio. She has a masters degree in journalism from UC Berkeley and she speaks fluent Spanish. CALmatters thanks the College Futures Foundation for supporting this position.

Trevor Eischen is the social media editor for CALmatters. He was the Social Media Editor at Politico in Washington, DC. where his work and strategies have increased Facebook and Twitter traffic more than 200% in 2.5 years. Trevor was responsible for training a 200-person newsroom and distributing multimedia political news on a range of online platforms. Earlier, as the Senior Web Producer at Politico, he worked with developers to optimize the user experience. Trevor has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and history from the University of Missouri.

The additions in January follow recent CALmatters announcements about the hiring of Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar to a new position as Director of Revenue and the election of Richard Koci Hernandez to the Board of Directors. Priyanka, a former marketing director at Informa and entrepreneur who launched one of the first hyper-local news sites in California, will lead CALmatters work in developing earned revenue. Koci, as he is known, is an internationally recognized innovator in multimedia and an associate professor at UC Berkeley. He is working with CALmatters and Byrhonda, a former student of his, to develop CALmatters video strategies.

CALmatters, an independent and non-profit organization, is now the largest news media covering state policy issues in California. Its work is shared with more than 130 online, print and broadcast media partners statewide. Its reporters cover all of the major issues in California including education, the environment, healthcare, poverty, politics and fiscal issues. It has ongoing and major collaborative projects with the Los Angeles Times and with leading radio stations under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For more more information, go to where we encourage you to sign up for our newsletter and to support our work by becoming a member of CALmatters.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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CALmatters took home 23 awards, including nine first place winners, at the California News Publishers Association Journalism Awards dinner in Long Beach, CA.

The awards, given out May 4, celebrate the best journalism in the state. This was the first year digital news outlets like CALmatters could enter.

“We’re very proud of our very talented CALmatters team,” said Editor Dave Lesher, who also credited Managing Editor Vicki Haddock, Deputy Editor Shawn Hubler, Senior editor Dan Morain, and Contributing Editor Linda Rogers along with the reporters, videographer and news developer who were recognized.

Reporter Ben Christopher, videographer Byrhonda Lyons, news developer John Osborn D’Agostino won first place for Public Service for our 2018 Election Guide. The judges called the guide “an absolute wonderful example of public service.” … “The news organization did a comprehensive job of laying out all the issue and candidate positions in an online magazine format with videos. Then after the election, CALmatters came back and explained it all. A real reader service.”

CALmatters also took first place for the home page of our website and second place for General Excellence. “Rarely does a non-profit, community funded news Website rise to the level of what CALmatters offers,” the judges said. “When you visit CalMatters, you get the sensation that you are visiting a large news organization. And, of course, the journalism is superb.”

CALmatters Senior Editor Dan Morain, Laurel Rosenhall and Christopher also won second place in Breaking News for what the judges called “impressive wall-to-wall coverage of the statewide general election (that) reflected well-thought-out planning and the team’s deep knowledge of the candidates and the issues. The standout piece in this superb package analyzed the big issues awaiting the governor-elect.”

Two Video Journalism awards went to videographer Byrhonda Lyons, with Environment reporter Julie Cart and Rosenhall. Climate Change won first place. “Explaining California’s war on climate change in fewer than five minutes is no easy task,” the judges said. “But this video does so in an engaging, effective way. With a narrator that viewers immediately know they can trust, high-quality, easy to understand animated graphics that unravel complex concepts, and photographs that tell the story of the present and the past, this video packs everything you need to know into one package. The opening shots of the smog days of old in California was a particularly compelling way to set the stage for the story.” The fourth place award was for a video about the police shooting of Stephon Clark.

Political reporter Laurel Rosenhall won two first place awards. She was honored in Coverage of Local Government for As the revolving door turns, a Capitol fixer is poised to ascend with Gavin Newsom—and legal weed. “Reporter Laurel Rosenhall shines a bright light on the highly lucrative revolving door through which the ethically compromised Kinney has gone many times during his career as an advisor to powerful politicians and as a lobbyist,” the judges said. “This is a powerful piece of journalism that vitally serves the public interest in two ways: explaining Kinney’s cozy relationship to California’s new governor and how relatively unknown people exert great influence behind the scenes. The “politics & pot” graphic succinctly captures the ties linking Kinney, Gavin Newsom and the cannabis industry.” Rosenhall also won first place in the Feature Story category for No legislator has confronted the effects of wildfire like this forensic dentist and fourth place for Colusa County Welcomes Retiring Gov. Jerry Brown.

Ricardo Cano won second place in for Coverage of Local Government for California’s School Bonds: the Rich Get Richer and the Poor, not so Much,” which the judges called out for using data “to document the financial challenges facing small and rural public-school districts in their quest to provide safe, clean, modern facilities for teachers and students. The story is reader- friendly because it isn’t drowning in numbers and Cano effectively mixes in interviews with officials trying to get new facilities built. The graphics accompanying the story allow readers to see how their district compares to others.”

Former Education reporter Jessica Calefati, also won third place for Teacher Pension Debt Swamps School Budgets. “Great reader service of identifying how ballooning teacher pensions are going to spell financial disaster for schools down the road,” the judges said.

Higher education reporter Felicia Mello won first place in the Coverage of Youth and Education category for California’s for-profit college watchdog fails to police as feds back down. Mello was also honored with a third place award for Writing for California Campuses Confront a Growing Crisis: Homeless Students.

Data and housing reporter Matt Levin won first place in Land Use Reporting for a series of stories on foreign investors driving up real estate prices and legislation that would force cities to build affordable housing around transit hubs. The judges gave this shoutout: “This is digital done right! The stories gave context to complex issues and used a variety of digital layers to connect readers with the information.” A second place award for feature writing also went to Levin, for California housing costs create harsh reality for refugees. “Huge relevance in today’s world,” the judges noted, adding. “A story that needs to be told that can help led to answers of a serious problem.”

CALmatters freelance reporter David Gorn won first place for Enterprise News Story or Series for stories on wellness, which the judges called out for “Great balance of stories about people and data – how to make changes in government finances and people’s health. Excellent reporting. Good and important read.” Levin won third place for How Attainable is the California Dream today?

CALmatters also won two fourth place awards, one for In-Depth Reporting on climate change by Cart, which the judged called a “Top-notch series that shows climate-change regulations are shortchanging taxpayers.” Christopher also won for his profile on Gov. Newsom. The judges said, “It’s hard to stand out when writing a profile about Gavin Newsom…But this well-written one…gave a bigger more nuanced picture of California’s governor.”

Read about all the CNPA awards.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Report for America, the national service program that places journalists in under-covered communities, is funding three reporters for an ambitious effort focused on California’s worst-in-the-nation poverty rate and the growing divide between the state’s rich and poor.

The project brings together CALmatters, McClatchy’s five California news organizations and the 25 Digital First newsrooms across the state in a first-of-its-kind joint reporting collaboration. The Report for America journalists will be based at The Fresno Bee, The Mercury News in San Jose and the CALmatters newsroom in Sacramento as part of a team we’re building to bring an unprecedented level of attention to this vital issue.

With millions of Californians living in or near poverty, we’ll cover the important legislative and policy issues and provide on-the-ground reporting about the people who are affected. This significant expansion of Report for America — which started a year ago with 13 reporters, is assigning 60 more in the coming year and plans to have 1,000 working across the country by 2023 — is the first step toward building a substantial longterm statewide initiative. Several donors have already contributed to the launch of our poverty coverage, and we’re in conversations with others who will help us scale it statewide. The coverage will be made available to our 160 media partners across the state, in multiple languages.

This expansion of Report for America is possible because of generous support from many sources, including these:

  • Facebook
  • Google News Initiative
  • Knight Foundation
  • Ford Foundation
  • Heising-Simons Foundation
  • Dirk and Natasha Ziff
  • Galloway Family Foundation
  • Craig Newmark Philanthropies
  • The Tow Foundation
  • Select Equity Group Foundation
  • Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation
  • The Lenfest Institute for Journalism
  • The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
  • The Joyce Foundation
  • The Steans Family Foundation
  • Henry L. Kimelman Family Foundation
  • Duo Collective

We deeply appreciate their support, and we’re grateful that Report for America is embracing and enabling our effort to bring this important coverage to Californians.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Neil Chase, an experienced leader of news organizations and journalism innovator, will join CALmatters as Chief Executive Officer on January 2, the board of directors announced today.

Chase will assume the CEO position from David Lesher, CALmatters co-founder, who will continue to serve as editor. The addition of Chase reflects the growing demand and opportunity for CALmatters to expand its high-quality journalism and its mission to improve California’s democracy through more understanding, transparency and accountability.

Since 2016, Chase has been the executive editor of The Mercury News and the East Bay Times, winner of an all-staff Pulitzer Prize in 2017. Chase worked for more than 30 years as an editor, manager and marketer, in recent years building digital brands and audience as a senior vice president at Federated Media Publishing and as a consultant for major publishers and corporations. He has been a leading participant in national discussions about the future of journalism, including the emerging nonprofit sector. And he served previously as Managing Editor at CBS MarketWatch and Continuous News Editor at the New York Times.

“Dave Lesher and his team have produced impactful one-of-a-kind stories about state politics that have provided insight and analysis to the growing readership served by CALmatters,” said Simone Coxe, co-founder and board chair. “Neil’s marketing and business acumen will be critical as we expand our statewide reach and grow and diversify our revenue.”

CALmatters has grown rapidly since its founding in 2015. Today, with a staff of about two dozen in Sacramento and Los Angeles, it produces hundreds of stories each year that are posted at and shared with more than 150 news organizations including all of California’s major newspapers and public radio stations. In 2018, CALmatters produced an award winning election guide and added a podcast, a daily newsletter, a forum for statewide commentary and a series of public events. It has also received several state and national awards for in-depth collaboration and innovative storytelling formats that included video and interactives.

“I’m thrilled to join CALmatters at a time when journalism is proving to be more essential than ever to the operation of our democracy,” Chase said. “This organization has proven that it can have an important and meaningful impact on accountability, transparency and civic engagement. I’m proud to help this talented team develop the newest forms of storytelling to fulfill our centuries-old responsibility as journalists.”

CALmatters plans to increase its team of journalists and to continue to experiment with new storytelling formats and technologies as it increases its impact in America’s largest state. It also plans an aggressive outreach effort to build its direct digital audience. Those ambitions will be supported by continued philanthropic donations and membership, as well as new earned revenue streams such as sponsorship, events, advertising and syndication.

Lesher, a co-founder of CALmatters who has served as both editor and CEO for more than three years, said that separating his two roles is essential to the organization’s growth. “Neil and I have worked together for the last couple years when he was one of the best media partners for CALmatters,” said Lesher. “I’m excited that he will help grow the organization and that I will work more closely with a talented team of journalists to help Californians understand and resolve our state’s major issues.”

CALmatters, founded in 2015, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism organization whose mission is to make California’s democracy better by increasing government transparency and accountability and by informing and engaging Californians. It is headquartered in Sacramento, California.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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We are excited to share that CALmatters has won the prestigious EPPY award for our California election guide.

The guide was recognized as the Best Innovation Project on a website with under 1 million pageviews a month.

Given by the Editor & Publisher magazine, the EPPY awards are intended to honor the best in digital media. The magazine’s staff recruited 49 judges this year to choose winners in 30 categories.

The CALmatters newsroom, which put in months of hard work into the guide,  is thrilled to receive this recognition. “Every election year, news organizations face the big challenge of how to engage readers, viewers and listeners in what many citizens consider boring, even irrelevant to their daily lives: midterm elections,” said CALmatters Publisher Marcia Parker. “Traditional voter guides, information-packed as they are, don’t always help. This year, CALmatters set out to make the races and propositions accessible and meaningful with a unique approach. We positioned voters as the hiring committee evaluating candidates for the top jobs in state government.”

The election guide is a nonpartisan resource that comprehensively explains the propositions you’ll see at the state level on the ballot, reviews candidates for statewide offices and covers critical races. It is designed to deliver all the information voters need as they prepare to head to the polls. In addition to articles about the arguments and endorsements on each side, this guide also has an interactive ballot guide as well as an explainer video series. There’s also a fun interactive Gimme Props game. If you haven’t visited it yet, do check it out here.

It’s been a good year for CALmatters. We recently won an award from the Online News Association for our housing explainer. Read more on that here.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Donna Lucas

Donna Lucas

CALmatters welcomes Donna Lucas, President and CEO of Lucas Public Affairs, and Christy Remey Chin, a Venture Partner at the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, on to the CALmatters Advisory Board

“We are thrilled to have these two very talented and accomplished women join our advisory board,” said CALmatters Publisher Marcia Parker. “They have a broad range of experience, skills and networks.”

Chin, an advocate of social entrepreneurship and high-impact philanthropy, has been instrumental in growing the Foundation’s pipeline, portfolio support, and stewardship of its donor partners over the past decade. Chin has served on the boards of Accountability Counsel, Adventure Scientists, Blue Engine, CareMessage, Green City Force, Jacaranda Health, Students for Education Reform, Urban Teachers and Watsi. Her career includes impressive achievements at the Skoll Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Bedrock Capital Partners and Norwest Venture Capital and at a venture-backed company, The Frontier Group

She also chairs the board of Benetech, serves on the National Venture Capital Association board and is on the advisory board of Ashoka U. Chin received her MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a BA in History from Colgate University.

Donna Lucas is often referred to as one of the most influential people in Sacramento. The Founder, CEO and President of Lucas Public Affairs has had a 30-year-career in which she has worked in senior executive positions both in public and private sectors. She was the deputy chief of staff for strategic planning and initiatives for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and chief of staff to First Lady Maria Shriver. She was the deputy press secretary for Gov. George Deukmejian, deputy treasurer for state Treasurer Tom Hayes, and California press secretary for the 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush.

Lucas serves on several boards including the Crocker Art Museum, John Burton Advocates for Youth, College Futures Foundation, All About Sacramento, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Maria Shriver’s Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. She is on the Executive Committee on the California Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and is Chair-Emeritus of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)

They join advisory board members: Mekahlo Medina, Emmy Award-winning co-anchor, technology and social media reporter for NBC4 Los Angeles; Douglas McGray, Editor-in-Chief of The California Sunday Magazine; John Thornton, Founder of the Texas Tribune; Richard Tofel, President of Propublica, and; Ernest Wilson, professor of communication and political science, and founder and director of the USC Center for Third Space Thinking at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications.

Christy Remey Chin

Launched in 2015, CALmatters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. Environmental regulation, education, health care, criminal justice, economic inequality – the debates on these issues and others have a profound impact on the lives of 38 million Californians and beyond. Our team of 20 + experienced journalists, with the time and resources to dig deep, is committed to meaningfully informing Californians about the players, politics, and interests that shape the issues that affect their lives. To ensure we reach many Californians, we work with more than 140 media organizations throughout the state that have long, deep relationships with their local audiences.

Media outlets interested in becoming CALmatters media partners should contact Editor-in-Chief Dave Lesher at [email protected]

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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We at CALmatters are excited to share that Health and Welfare Reporter Elizabeth Aguilera has been selected by the California Latino Journalists News Media Association (CCNMA) as one of the 15 Most Influential Latina Journalists of the Year.

“In this time of division and misunderstanding, it’s more important than ever that we recognize voices who bring context and knowledge to their beats. We are honored to join with Hispanicize as we shine a light on L.A. Latina journalists who are working hard to uncover stories that might otherwise go untold and who bring nuance and perspective to ongoing news stories,” said CCNMA president Laurie Ochoa.

CCNMA said that the criteria for choosing the 15 honorees was the work they’ve completed in the past year, the impact of that work and each honoree’s reach and influence in the communities they cover. They will be honored Oct. 12 at a breakfast at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City, CA., during Hispanicize LA, an annual conference for Latinx professionals in content creation, journalism, marketing & entertainment.

“We’re very proud that Elizabeth has been recognized by CCNMA for her work,” said Dave Lesher, CALmatters co-founder and Editor in Chief. “Her coverage of topics including health care, immigration, and inequity here is extremely important in California.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Sept. 5, 2018 10:00 am

New K-12 Education Reporter To Join CALmatters

Publisher and COO
CALmatters K-12 journalist Ricardo Cano

We’re very pleased that Ricardo Cano is joining our CALmatters team next month to cover K-12 Education in California.

Cano joins CALmatters,  the state news nonprofit dedicated to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters, from the Arizona Republic, where he spent three years as the education reporter. There he covered breaking news and produced enterprise reporting, explanatory videos and data-driven features. Cano has been a finalist for three awards, a Livingston Award for Young Journalists honoring outstanding achievement by professionals under the age of 35, an Education Writers Association award for data journalism and two consecutive Arizona Press Club awards for public service journalism.

“We are excited that Ricardo will be joining the team,” said David Lesher, CEO, editor in chief and co-founder of CALmatters. “He is a solid journalist who has demonstrated data and multimedia skills as well as a passion for education issues.”

Cano’s stories at the Arizona Republic included a data-driven report on how Arizona has been hiring unqualified teachers and another data series uncovering an alarming percentage of unsafe school buses. He juggled those projects with multi-media reporting and responsibility for regular coverage and analysis of all education news, including that state’s turbulent teachers’ strike. When voters in key Arizona neighborhoods faced outrageous lines at the polls, Cano went to his local polling spot and hung out past midnight to interview the last person to cast a ballot—an immigrant from Guatemala who had languished in line more than five hours. “Cano is a relentless reporter and a quick study with terrific instincts,” said CALmatters Managing Editor Vicki Haddock.

A bilingual journalist, Cano will be returning to California. Madera is his hometown and his journalism degree is from Fresno State. He will start at CALmatters on Sept. 10.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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UPDATED: September 17, 2018.

CALmatters’ explainer on California’s high housing costs won a first-place award Saturday from the Online News Association.

NPR producer Niala Boodhoo, host of the award ceremony in Austin, Tex.: “The judges felt the winning package made excellent use of data, graphics and visualizations to clearly explain a complex, multi-layered problem in an engaging and easy to digest presentation.”

Californians: Here’s Why Your Housing Costs Are So High” was prepared by data and housing reporter Matt Levin, political reporter Ben Christopher, web developer John Osborn D’Agostino and Managing Editor Vicki Haddock. It was among 1,100 entries and won in the “small newsroom” category for features. It was released in August 2017, as the state Legislature was considering a package of bills to address the state’s affordable housing crisis.

Take a look at the explainer here for answers to your questions about housing in California.

ONA is the world’s largest association of online journalists. The OJAs are administered by ONA and are the only comprehensive set of journalism prizes honoring excellence in digital journalism, focusing on independent, community, nonprofit, major media and international news sites.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, reac[email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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Aug. 16, 2018 11:46 am

Standing Strong for a #FreePress

Publisher and COO

Three years ago our nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization, CALmatters, was founded with a simple mission: to explain how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. We share our coverage of state government with more than 140 news partners big and small across California, who are dedicated to informing their communities.

Every day we work hard to create transparency and understanding in the policy process that allows decision-makers and civically engaged citizens to shape dialogue and encourages a healthy democracy with informed voters.

We put trust at the center of all we do and we deliver fair, accurate, and balanced coverage.

As a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization, CALmatters doesn’t have an editorial board and we can’t and don’t take positions on anything.

But we can and do stand today with the hundreds of news organizations that published editorials supporting freedom of press, as well as our media partners, and others across our state and nation like the Institute for NonProfit News, of which we are a member; veteran journalist and CALmatters board member Gregory Favre whose op-ed we published today; and all of us here at CALmatters, who, like our nation’s founders, believe that a free and independent press is vital to our democracy.   



Marcia Parker, Publisher

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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For generations, newspaper commentary sections have been an important and influential forum for experts and advocates, policymakers and pundits to share their views on major issues. Most of our social challenges are not simple and the solutions are not obvious. A forum for commentary is an opportunity to hear directly from people involved, in their own words. And it is a complement to the journalism at CALmatters.

CALmatters is a nonpartisan, statewide news organization with a mission to raise public awareness about California issues. So it is an appropriate place to host a forum with a wide range of perspectives on the major issues for our state. We will seek out voices from across the political spectrum to help understand where we have common ground and where there are differences. We will include a diversity of voices representing California’s population, its geography, its young and its old. It will be a place to hear different sides of issues, as we will show with the propositions on the upcoming November ballot. And it will be a place to hear about ideas for how to solve California’s major problems from experts, advocates and decision makers.

As with all of our work at CALmatters, the commentary articles we post will be shared with more than 140 print, broadcast and digital media partners statewide. On our site,, the commentary articles will also be clearly marked to distinguish the individual perspectives from our journalism.

Senior editor Dan Morain will oversee the forum. He is an accomplished journalist and former editorial page editor at the Sacramento Bee. He is looking for pieces of fewer than 700 words that help explain important facets of our state. Please feel free to reach out to Dan with any suggestions and with your thoughts at [email protected], 916.201.6281.

David Lesher
CEO/Editor, CALmatters

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, [email protected], (916) 201.6281.

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