Christa Scharfenberg named project director of $25 million California Local Journalism Fellowship program at Berkeley Journalism

October 11, 2022

A middle aged woman wearing a long white blouse, smiling, and standing with her arms crossed in front of a shingled wall.

Christa Scharfenberg (Photo Katie Rodriguez ’23)

Veteran nonprofit journalism leader Christa Scharfenberg will direct a new $25 million, state-funded fellowship program at Berkeley Journalism to support and strengthen local news reporting in communities throughout the state.

Believed to be the largest state-level funding for journalism in the United States, the new Berkeley fellowship program will provide multi-year stipend support for up to 40 fellows per year while they work in California newsrooms, covering communities in need of strong local journalism. The fellowship program will pursue partnerships with for-profit and nonprofit newsrooms, community and ethnic outlets, and public media.

Funds for the fellowship program come from California Assembly Bill 179, which was approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September and championed by State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa). For more than a year, Glazer advocated for passage, arguing that supporting more independent, accurate and credible news coverage will help Californians make informed decisions about government and public policy.

The funding will not only strengthen California’s democracy by supporting local journalism, but also give early career journalists, both Berkeley Journalism graduates and graduates from other programs, the opportunity to take on entry level jobs essential to building a journalism career.

Scharfenberg joins us from the American Journalism Project, described as “the first-ever venture philanthropy dedicated to nonprofit local news.” As senior vice president for portfolio success, she led coaching and support for a diverse portfolio of local news organizations and oversaw the organization’s learning and evaluation work.

Prior to AJP, Scharfenberg spent more than 18 years at The Center for Investigative Reporting, serving as CEO from 2017-2021. She helped lead CIR’s growth from a small nonprofit to a multi-platform newsroom reaching millions of people through extensive local, national and international media partnerships and the Reveal website, public radio show, podcast and documentaries. Under Scharfenberg, CIR also implemented innovative approaches to collaboration and community engagement.

While at CIR, Scharfenberg was part of the team that created and oversaw the statewide reporting initiative “California Watch” in 2009, which included partnerships with for-profit and community news organizations throughout the state. In addition, she was deeply involved in CIR’s merger with the San Francisco-based nonprofit newsroom The Bay Citizen in 2012.

Scharfenberg is also an executive and senior producer of documentaries, including the Academy Award-nominated film “Heroin(e),” numerous FRONTLINE co-productions and the independent film “Banished,” which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. She is a member of the Poynter Institute’s National Advisory Board and was a 2014 Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program fellow at Columbia University Journalism School.

She has participated in several collaborations over the years with Berkeley Journalism including with our Investigative Reporting Program, and served on the planning committee for the annual Reva & David Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting.

“Christa’s experience building and sustaining major nonprofit newsrooms will be critically important for us in creating this hugely ambitious program from scratch within the next few months,” said Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism. “I could not be more excited about working closely with Christa to build something that is truly transformative for local journalism and serves as a model for other states around the country.”

Scharfenberg will work intensively with Anand, assistant dean for advancement Steve Katz and others on our senior leadership team to build this ambitious program, with the expectation to begin giving out fellowships in the spring.

“I am incredibly honored to assume this role,” Scharfenberg said. “As the fundamentals of our democracy are under threat, the need for fact-based, representative local journalism has never been more critical. I believe this program will be a powerful gateway for the next generation of journalists to launch their careers and help local news organizations truly meet community information needs. To do this at Berkeley Journalism, which has been part of my professional community for the past two decades, and with Geeta, the first woman to run the school, makes this opportunity all the more exciting.”

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