The inaugural contest is part of an organization-wide effort to diversify commentary voices across the state and build career pathways for young journalists.
A new CalMatters Earth Day op-ed contest is giving young journalists a chance to contribute commentary on the environment and have their words elevated by the nonprofit newsroom.
Winners will have their work published this week leading up to Earth Day. The commentary prompt was “How have changes in climate impacted your community?” centered on where each student lives in the state.
CalMatters received 126 submissions, with some students going above and beyond by adding original photography, infographics and art. Many students interviewed local water officials. The first-place winner will be awarded $500 and another $500 for the student’s program. Second and third place winners will receive $300, and fourth will receive $150.
CalMatters’ work with young journalists is made possible by the Emerson Collective along with CalMatters’ members, institutional funders and sponsors.
“Youth reporters are not just tomorrow’s storytellers — they already have stories to tell. They are already impacted, equipped with lived experiences,” said Michael Lozano, Youth Journalism Initiative manager. “This contest gave city and rural youth a megaphone to better inform us all and inspire solutions. They did not disappoint.”
The op-ed contest was open to students in middle and high school, with one middle school — Thomas S. Hart Middle School in Pleasanton — submitting 37 entries from students.
The lead teacher behind that effort, Emily Longnecker, wrote: “I appreciate the excitement your offer has brought to my students. It helped them relate real life issues to learning standards.”
To prepare students and support equity, contest leaders Yousef Baig, CalMatters’ California Voices editor, and Lozano hosted two free webinars on opinion writing and gave participants live feedback on their pitches.
“Young people in California will be acutely affected by our response to climate change, and they’ve made it clear that political leaders aren’t doing enough,” Baig said. “As CalMatters strives to spotlight less visible authors in our commentary section, the best way we can recognize Earth Day is to publish remarkable young writers chronicling local impacts and outlining solutions that can help their communities.”
Check our commentary section each day this week to read the winning entries.