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Pioneering bill nears finish line

This week New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation that would invest millions of dollars in innovative projects designed to revive local journalism, community and municipal information, and civic engagement across the state. On Thursday, the New Jersey Legislature approved $5 million for the Civic Information Consortium, a public fund led by state higher-education institutions that would strengthen local news coverage statewide.

The FY 2019 budget bill that funds the consortium passed the legislature on Thursday and heads to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk. The $5-million appropriation for the consortium is tied to legislation that Free Press Action Fund spearheaded, the Civic Info Bill (S2317/A3628). The Civic Info Bill passed the Assembly on Thursday and is set for a full Senate vote as early as next Monday. If it passes, it will also head to Gov. Murphy.

The Civic Info Bill would help improve the quantity and quality of news and information in New Jersey communities, which would benefit longstanding and startup news outlets alike while also launching statewide media-literacy and civic-engagement programs. It would also provide grants to support the information needs of New Jersey’s low-income communities and communities of color.

Community voices made the difference

Thursday’s vote capped off an incredible week in the campaign to revive, strengthen and transform New Jersey media.

Earlier in the week, Free Press Action Fund’s Mike Rispoli, along with representatives from New Jersey Policy Perspective, Rowan University, Rutgers University and Village Green, testified before the Senate Higher Education Committee, which passed the bill unanimously. Those who spoke before the committee talked about the importance of local news and information to the health of communities across the state.

Since Free Press Action Fund began the campaign for the Civic Info Bill 18 months ago, we’ve met with hundreds of people in communities across the state who told us they’re craving better news and information where they live.

Thousands have taken action in support of the bill: They’ve signed petitions, called their lawmakers, visited their offices and lobbied their representatives.

We’re so close to making history for New Jersey communities that have suffered the effects of years of runaway media consolidation. People need access to trustworthy news and information, as studies have shown how essential they both are to civic participation. The Civic Info Bill would ensure that communities around the state are informed and engaged and can participate more fully in local decisions affecting schools, elections and infrastructure.

We’re excited to see lawmakers invest millions of dollars in the Civic Info Bill, and we urge Gov. Murphy to sign this bill into law and help make New Jersey a national model for how to create a 21st-century public-interest media system, one that’s rooted in communities, based on collaboration and focused on lifting up unheard voices.

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