As the media landscape transforms and opinion sections shrink statewide, Californians need a robust forum to discuss the issues affecting their lives. “California Voices,” our reimagined commentary section, seeks to fill that role.
Speaking up and getting involved in politics is a luxury that was never afforded to Anastacio Rosales – or many of the 4,000 people living in Planada. For much of his 58 years in the Merced County town, Rosales focused on work, laboring in fields and later in packaging facilities until his retirement seven years ago.
That luxury became a vital necessity after January storms caused catastrophic flooding in the Central Valley. Hundreds of Planada homes, including Rosales’, were underwater. Planada has been an afterthought for generations, Rosales told me last week, but the scale of need was too great to keep quiet.
“A lot of us, it’s not that we’re afraid to speak out – it’s that they don’t pay attention to us,” Rosales said. “They see us as a low minority.”
This compelled him to demand action from state and local leaders. “We’re a community of field workers. Despite what we give to the state every day, we continue to be ignored.” Rosales wrote in a moving guest commentary published by CalMatters in June.
There were no talking points or hidden agendas in his piece. Rosales spoke up for his community and spoke from the heart. Lawmakers apparently got the message. A few days later, a $310 billion budget deal was announced, and Planada’s $20.3 million ask for recovery funding was fulfilled.
CalMatters is striving to spotlight more authors like Rosales. As the media landscape transforms and opinion sections shrink statewide, Californians need a robust forum to discuss the issues affecting their lives.
“California Voices,” our reimagined commentary section, seeks to fill that role.
While the long recovery journey continues, Rosales’ voice – alongside sustained media coverage – showed how Californians can still shape outcomes, despite the forces that favor cynicism and disillusionment.
The mission statement guiding CalMatters commentary is simple: California Voices aims to broaden our understanding of California by convening discussions and fostering dialogue that advances solutions. We will spotlight voices of those directly impacted by policy or its absence and are a forum for guest commentaries, staff columns and contributors.
On legislation to limit solitary confinement in prisons, we published a piece by a man who spent years confined in isolation. As lawmakers mulled a major state medical board reform, a woman who lost her limbs because of a doctor’s mistake explained how the proposal could’ve helped her. When officials canceled the salmon fishing season, we published two perspectives, including one from an understandably frustrated commercial fisher.
We’ve steadily been building this collection of firsthand experiences. Almost 40% of our commentaries this year were by people who have often felt voiceless, or less represented in mainstream discourse. We intend to increase that share much more.
To be clear: CalMatters will still publish commentaries from politics, academia, advocacy, executive suites and elsewhere. But we’re making a concerted effort to feature authors with less clout and access.
Our launch includes a collection of guest commentaries outlining potential solutions to California’s homelessness crisis. The hope is to give readers a deeper sense of the barriers and solutions to the state’s most complicated problems, all in one place. We’re already assessing which issue to feature next. If you have a suggestion, reach out to me.
How to Pitch an Op-Ed to California Voices
During this virtual event on Nov. 14, California Voices editor Yousef Baig will explain the new approach to commentary and share insights on how to craft a competitive op-ed submission. Register here
California Voices will also spotlight multiple perspectives on a single subject so readers can gain a fuller picture of topics in the news cycle. In addition to the salmon shutdown I mentioned earlier, this year we’ve paired two or more commentaries on the state budget, rooftop solar reform, high-speed rail, water management, psychedelics, labor issues, public meeting rules and more.
Of course, our indefatigable columnist Dan Walters will continue explaining California politics four times a week. We’re also growing our roster of regular contributors. Veteran journalist and author Jim Newton has been our eyes on Los Angeles, and spent much of the year scrutinizing the sprawling impacts of the warehouse boom in the Inland Empire. Cal Poly lecturer and former journalist Julie Lynem has covered a mix of subjects including social media regulation and “woke” corporations. Pedro Rios, a prominent human rights advocate, has covered immigration at the California-Mexico border, shedding light on federal surveillance and the policies that force migrants into deadly deserts.
My byline will also be in the mix.
The approach for California Voices is not novel. Opinion departments across the country are working to diversify their pages with increasingly scarce resources. What makes CalMatters distinct: We’re the biggest state-level nonprofit newsroom investing in opinion journalism. And we share almost everything we publish with roughly 270 media partners across the state, which means the mission of California Voices can extend well beyond CalMatters.
As Rosales told me, “every Californian is deserving of equal representation and attention.”
It’s a little cliche, sure, but it’s a sentiment everyone shares. Many people feel ignored, and the state’s supermajority politics can discourage a lot of the discourse. Expanding the voices we hear from can make difficult discussions more representative of California, and the solutions easier to reach.
That’s the hope, at least.