In eighth grade, Cedric Chan went through an unusual adolescent phase: immersing himself in city municipal code.
That eventually turned him on to watching city council meetings, and when he arrived at Los Altos High School, joining the student newspaper.
Chan, now a high school junior, is the managing editor of a new, student-run publication. Called the Midpeninsula Post, it's made up of teenagers like him who stay up late to "geek out" over city council meetings and believe wholeheartedly in the mission of local journalism.
Tomoki Chien, editor in chief of the Midpeninsula Post and a junior at Los Altos High School, came up with the idea of a regional, independent news outlet that would cover stories that matter to high schoolers throughout the Peninsula. He felt frustrated by the limitations of school publications, which are "educational programs first, newspapers second."
"Until I joined The Talon and started reporting on local politics, I didn't realize there are interesting things here that are happening and very much relevant to my life — maybe even more so than things happening at a national or state scale," Chien said.
He poached reporters from The Talon, Los Altos High's student publication, and is working to recruit more student journalists from high schools in Mountain View and Palo Alto. They were assigned beats, such as city hall and education, for each city.
Midpeninsula Post reporters have covered school reopening plans, public health restrictions, the resignation of Los Altos' city manager and the Palo Alto City Council's vote to open Foothills Park to the public — all while managing Zoom classes and a typical high school workload. (Chien tries not to text reporters during class time but often can't help it when he has a budding story idea.)
Gil Rubinstein, a Los Altos High sophomore who covers Los Altos City Hall and education for the Midpeninsula Post, said he was immediately drawn into the idea of a student-run media "conglomerate" that could have a larger impact than siloed student newspapers.
"I think there was such an incredible opportunity here to do something different and bring together people in a way that hasn't really been done before that we can find and that would allow us to be free to pursue what we wanted without being tied to some sort of central organization or academic obligations," Rubinstein said. This summer, he covered local angles on the racial justice movement, including an interview with Los Altos Council member Neysa Fligor about police reform and the City Council's late-night decision to eliminate school resource officers from the Los Altos High School campus.
"That, for a particular group of students, is going to have a huge impact," he said of the council's decision to eliminate school resource officers. "We think that it's a shame really that that information isn't being brought to students in a way that's effective."
Stories are also packaged specifically for their audience (fellow teenagers) with a focus on graphics, videos and social media explainers of opaque government action.
"No hunting for web links, navigating outdated websites or even being left in the dark when important stories come up," a recent Instagram post reads. "If it's news, we'll cover it, and it'll show up right here in your feed.
"A lot of people will read local news because it shows up on their doorstep. What we're trying to do is in a metaphorical sense bring local news to high schoolers' doorsteps — and their doorstep right now is on their Instagram feeds or Twitter," Rubinstein said.
Allison Huang, a Mountain View High School junior and Midpeninsula Post's chief visual journalist, came to the publication without any prior journalism experience. To join student newspaper The Oracle, her school requires students to finish a yearlong introduction to journalism class, which is mostly focused on writing, she said, so she never enrolled.
"Being on Midpen has allowed me to do things I wouldn't be able to do at the Mountain View Oracle," she said.
The Midpeninsula Post is still young but eager to grow. Chien hopes to recruit more students, including graphic artists and middle schoolers; expand to more coverage areas and topics, such as food and recreation; and create a video department. They recently started an artist-of-the-month column that features high school musicians, illustrators, sculptors and other kids of artists.
Students with a passion for journalism (no prior experience required, however) who are interested in applying can do so here.