The Press Democrat Selected by Report for America for Grant to Report on Mental Health Effects of Local Disasters

As part of our commitment to deliver even more meaningful and revelatory content to Sonoma County, I’m proud to share The Press Democrat is among several dozen newsrooms across the country to receive a grant to help fund a new reporting position.

The Report for America program selected The Press Democrat from hundreds of other applicants and awarded us a grant to hire a reporter to explore how the past five years of traumatic events — from devastating wildfires and floods to learning disruptions triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic — have affected the emotional wellness and educational gains of Sonoma County students.

It’s no secret the unprecedented outside-the-classroom challenges our kids, especially those in grades K-12, have confronted the past half-decade have resulted in sagging academic scores.

Reading levels have tumbled, graduation rates have dropped and, even worse, teachers have seen a surge in the number of students grappling with emotional and psychological issues.

The Press Democrat has been exploring the topic for the past year. Investigative health reporter Martin Espinoza last October, on the fifth anniversary of the 2017 storm of wildfires, offered a special report that revealed the growing acute trauma among students reported by teachers and mental health experts.

A local survey reported about one in six Sonoma County middle and high school students say they are still “meaningfully feeling the effects of the 2017 wildfires,” was just one of Espinoza’s findings.

However, even deeper coverage is essential. Exploring the long-term effects of trauma on our next generation of young people was the foundation of our request to Report for America for a journalist who can explore the topic at an even deeper level.

For the next two years, the reporter — for whom we are now recruiting — will frame the challenges while also pursuing solutions that may be found in other parts of the country. I believe it could be one of the most important positions in our newsroom.

There are two ways you can help make this an even greater success.

First, if you are a journalist eager to tackle this enterprising beat or you know of a candidate whose skills match the expectations of our readers, please encourage them to apply at

You also can contact me at to share your interest.

Secondly, Report for America pays a portion of the reporter’s salary, and The Press Democrat must raise the balance by seeking tax-deductible contributions. I’ll have more information on that process and how you – as an individual, philanthropic trust or non-profit group — can help in the very near future.

Report for America is a national non-profit group that places journalists in local newsrooms across the country. At a time when American newsrooms face unprecedented economic and financial challenges, the organization helps media organizations like The Press Democrat report on under-covered issues and underserved communities.

We made several presentations to leaders at the organization in late 2022 and recently learned of our award. We are just one of three California newsrooms to earn the grant, and I couldn’t be prouder because it will expand our ability to pursue and publish even stronger journalism for our readers and subscribers. This role will harness watchdog reporting and storytelling skills.

The initiative is part of a national effort by a Boston-based nonprofit news organization called The GroundTruth Project that supports emerging journalists around the globe with a special emphasis on social issues and public service journalism.

When I arrived as executive editor two years ago, I promised a new commitment to powerful journalism that makes a difference in this beautiful slice of California. This position — funded by our community and Report for America — will play a key role in upholding that pledge.

As always, thanks for reading The Press Democrat.