More than 3 million students. Hundreds of campuses. A state higher education budget of $36 billion. As we’ve heard so often lately, California is a nation-state, and its system of colleges and universities is equally gargantuan.

Only a handful of reporters in California cover this important beat full-time. But across the state, student journalists are reporting for their campus newspapers on issues that affect them directly, from the cost of college to freedom of speech, sexual assault, and now, a global pandemic. 

Student journalists are the experts on their colleges. And with the number of local news outlets shrinking, their work increasingly informs not only students but nearby communities. Now more than ever, they need support. That’s why this spring, CalMatters launched the College Journalism Network. 

The network brings together student journalists from across the state to collaborate on group reporting projects, pitch and write stories for CalMatters and our media partners, and receive training. All positions are paid, so students can afford to focus on their professional development. Our goal: to broaden and deepen CalMatters’ higher education coverage, while mentoring a diverse new generation of journalists.

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With the generous support of the College Futures Foundation, we assembled our first team of six talented fellows: Vanessa Arredondo from UC Berkeley, Janelle Salanga from UC Davis, Omar Rashad from El Camino College, Ethan Coston from UC San Diego, Aidan McGloin from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Adria Watson from Sacramento State. They are joined by at least a dozen more students from these and other campuses who have participated in our trainings or contributed reporting to our stories.

As the coronavirus reshapes higher education, our student reporters have covered the challenges colleges faced as they moved instruction online, student campaigns for flexible grading policies, how the UC graduate student strike is evolving post-pandemic, and what it’s like to juggle classes with homeschooling your children. We created a blog, Corona on Campus, that brings together our stories with coverage from student newspapers around the state to document how the virus is affecting California colleges and universities. You can find all our work here.

All California student journalists are welcome to participate in our regular Zoom trainings, which have covered public records requests, solutions journalism, public health reporting basics, managing your mental health while covering a crisis, and more. 

At our two-day kickoff training in March — held just before the pandemic made in-person trainings impossible — student fellow Omar Rashad shared a troubling encounter he’d had with a recruiter for a major national news organization. The recruiter liked Rashad’s work, but said he was reluctant to offer an internship to someone who attended a community college. Rashad was taken aback. 

Now, as a fellow with the College Journalism Network, Rashad is reporting on the effect of COVID-19 on community college athletics and Muslim students observing Ramadan while social distancing.

“It’s given me an opportunity to write about underreported issues that impact a large amount of people in the state,” Rashad said.

We’re just getting started. If you’re a student journalist or faculty advisor and want to join the network, please message me at felicia@calmatters.org. If you’d like to support our work, you can contact CalMatters publisher Marcia Parker at marcia@calmatters.org.

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Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Gary Reed with any commentary questions: gary@calmatters.org, (916) 234-3081.

Felicia Mello edits CalMatters' College Journalism Network, a collaboration with student journalists across California to cover higher education from the ground up. Her reporting on affordability, equity...