Civic Info Bill A3628 would establish the Civic Info Consortium, a proposed collaboration among journalists, organizers, tech innovators and higher-education institutions designed to invest in projects that would strengthen local media, provide impactful reporting, expand access to government data, and amplify the voices of people of color and other marginalized communities.
The need for the consortium couldn’t be more apparent: Media consolidation has shuttered newsrooms across New Jersey and led to thousands of journalist job losses, leaving many communities without any local news coverage.
At the same time, some promising local news startups have emerged in the state, but their path to economic sustainability is unclear. Through the seed money, partnerships, models and evaluation the consortium could provide, such startups could flourish.
Free Press Action Fund has spent more than a year listening to people from all over the state and brainstorming with them about the kinds of projects the consortium could support.
Here’s what some residents had to say:
“With the weakening of newspapers and so many changes in the political landscape — not to mention a White House that threatens the First Amendment — we need strong local news coverage more than ever. We need to pass this legislation to make the Civic Info Consortium a reality. Ignorance is the biggest impediment to a functional, successful society.”—Bonnie Schultz, Princeton
“Only informed citizens can make good decisions on how to tackle the many problems we have.”—Samuel Irizarry, Vineland
“Free and independent reporting allows for an educated populace. An educated people makes for a robust government and economy.”—Christal La Naylor, Cape May
“I’m an elected Democratic Committee member in my ward and district. In order to serve my constituents well, it is necessary to know what’s going on not only in town, but across the county and the state of New Jersey. And in order for voters to be informed, they need accurate and regular local news reporting.”—Kathryn Riss, Piscataway
“There is no local media outlet in Toms River. I found out yesterday that there had been a drug bust last week in my retirement community. I am 82 years old and do not feel safe.”—Melhado, Jersey City
“New Jersey needs local government transparency. Without local news coverage, abuses are much easier to perpetrate and to cover up.”—Bernard Fleitman, Princeton
“Local news is important to me because I provide services to veterans and their families and would like them to know what can be done to help them be productive members of society and strengthen their communities.”—LaShaunda Carter, Lawnside
“Local news is significantly important because it gives the voiceless a voice.”—Anselm LeBourne, East Orange
“I need local coverage to be an informed citizen. With no one reporting on municipal, regional or statewide news, ordinary people cannot be responsible citizens.”—Bill Tyler, Morristown
“My local newspaper now has a disclaimer: ‘The Suburban Trends is owned by the USA Today network, but is staffed by our local editors.’ These ‘local’ editors are not locals; they were brought in by USA Today from out of the area to replace longtime local editors and they have no interest in covering what’s important to the residents of West Milford Township. … We want our newspaper to report on what’s affecting our township; while the headlines aren’t big for USA Today’s big-city editors, they’re important to the residents of the township.”—Michael Belgie, Hewitt
“Local news is vital to democracy and to thriving communities. I care about this so much that I’ve quite literally devoted my life to it as a journalism researcher and educator, and as a New Jersey resident, I believe this is of critical importance to this state, poised as it is in the shadow of two bigger markets.”—Carrie Brown, Jersey City
A big opportunity
Civic Info Bill Civic Info Bill A3628 would establish the consortium with an initial $20-million investment. Now we need to do everything we can to build momentum for the legislation.
Gov. Phil Murphy will introduce his first budget next week. By funding the consortium in his budget, he would make it clear to legislators that supporting local media is a priority for his administration.