Incarcerated journalist Steve Brooks selected as California Local News Fellow

Steve Brooks image 2

Steve Brooks

Steve Brooks, former editor-in-chief of the award-winning San Quentin News, was selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of the California Local News Fellowship. The program is a state-funded initiative based at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to strengthen local, public affairs reporting in California, with a focus on underserved communities. 

Brooks, currently serving a term at San Quentin Prison, will be a part-time contributing writer, reporting for the nonprofit newsroom Bay City News Foundation. He will cover issues of incarceration, criminal justice and human rights. (Brooks’ full biography and personal statement are below.)

Brooks said he hopes to show that incarcerated people are human beings and to inspire other incarcerated people to become involved in journalism, to help transform themselves and the narratives about them. “Being involved in journalism makes me feel like I serve a real purpose in life, something I’ve never felt before,” Brooks said. “I like being a voice for the voiceless and helping change the narrative about incarcerated people.” 

Brooks, who has been incarcerated for 29 years, joins 39 other fellows, selected through a competitive process to work in local newsrooms throughout the state. The fellowship program, spearheaded by State Senator Steve Glazer (D-Contra Costa), supports and funds early-career journalists to cover local news for two years in communities throughout the state. The first cohort is working in outlets as varied as Mission Local, Fresnoland, La Opinion, India Currents, North State Public Radio and the Los Angeles Times. A full list of newsroom partners can be found here.

Katherine Ann Rowlands, founder of Bay City News Foundation and publisher of its news site, where Brooks’ reporting will be published, said: “We are committed to telling stories that have been under covered or overlooked, in an effort to more accurately reflect communities in the greater Bay Area and Northern California. Steve’s voice and perspective will enhance our coverage and build deeper understanding.”

Brooks will anchor a new section of called “Inside/Out,” which will feature reporting by incarcerated journalists examining criminal justice issues. 

Berkeley Journalism has a long history of supporting journalism at San Quentin. Professor Bill Drummond, who covered prison issues for the Los Angeles Times in the 1970s, has taught college courses for dozens of prisoners at San Quentin since 2012. He has also taught a UC Berkeley Journalism class, which received the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Award for Service to the Community in 2015, that brings Berkeley students into the prison on a weekly basis to help with research for the prison writers, editors and producers. 

“Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow: ‘The nature of the criminal justice system has changed. It is no longer primarily concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime, but rather with the management and control of the dispossessed.’ Nobody knows this better than Steve Brooks, who has the right judgment, experience and temperament for the job of illuminating issues of prison from the standpoint of the end user,” Drummond said.

San Quentin News has won the James Madison Freedom of Information Award, presented by the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, and the organization gave Brooks its Excellence in Commentary award in 2020.

“The California Local News Fellowship does more than throw a lifeline to local newsrooms that are struggling and even disappearing due to unsustainable funding and changes in technology, “ said Christa Scharfenberg, who directs the fellowship program. “This program, supported by the people of California, is supporting fellows to cover overlooked communities. Why? Local reporting is frontline work for truth, justice, and rights in our communities and without it, democracy suffers. It’s a simple equation.” 

Selection of the second cohort of fellows is open now. Find more information and the application here. 


Read more about Steve Brooks here: S.Brooks Biography and Personal Statement

For media inquiries or to schedule an interview, contact Communications Director Andrea Lampros at or 510.847.4469.