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  • WILMINGTON — Do you want your news outlet to better serve the public interest in North Carolina? Are you covering the local movement for racial justice?

    If you’re a reporter who wants to build skills in accessing public records, reporting on state government or understanding movements for social justice, please join us at the Free Movement Conference in Wilmington on March 23–25.

    Free Press will facilitate the conference’s “Journalism and Media Justice in the South” track. The series of panels, workshops and discussions are part of our News Voices: North Carolina initiative, which focuses on connecting reporters and residents throughout the state.

    Here are the details:

    What: Free Movement Conference
    When: March 23–25 (Fri.–Sun.)
    Where: Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center, 120 South 2nd St., Wilmington
    RSVP: Tickets are available here.

    Here’s what’s on the agenda:

    • MuckRock: Putting Public Records in Everyone's Hands: One of the leading open-government organizations in the country is coming to the Port City to train journalists, activists and anyone else who wants to learn how to access information under the Freedom of Information Act.
    • How to Keep an Eye on Raleigh: A veteran journalist discusses how to keep tabs on the North Carolina General Assembly.
    • How-To for Citizen Journalists: Led by student journalist Azuree Bateman and Professor Tamara Jeffries of Bennett College.
    • Who Is Your Media Strategy? Free Press Organizer Alicia Bell shows community members, organizers and advocates how to build ongoing transformational relationships with local media.
    • Legacy of Black Media: Featuring Free Press’ Joseph Torres, co-author of News for All the People; North Carolina Central University Journalism Professor Brett Chambers, who heads the Triangle Association of Black Journalists; and Octavia Rainey, columnist for The Carolinian.
    • Truth, Fear and the Wilmington Water Crisis: With Lisa Sorg of North Carolina Policy Watch, Adam Wagner of StarNews, Wilmington-based activist Dana Sargent and Melanie Sill of the Democracy Fund.
    • Anti-Oppression Media Strategies Toward Transgender Justice: Featuring Lewis Wallace of Scalawag, Reverend Debra J. Hopkins of Sisters Together and Reaching, Gabrielle Bellot of the Literary Hub and Kyle Dacuyan of PEN America, a national organization promoting freedom of expression.

    Free Movement 2018 also includes sessions on ending mass incarceration, shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline, arts activism, grassroots fundraising and more.

    Register now to attend the Free Movement Conference on March 23–25. Free Press Journalism Program Director Fiona Morgan is available for press inquiries at 919-491-1901, and at fmorgan@freepress.net.

  • TRENTON — On Monday, New Jersey State Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald reintroduced the Civic Info Bill. The legislation would establish and fund the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium (NJCIC), an initiative uniting several of New Jersey’s leading higher-education institutions to invest in projects that would strengthen local news coverage, community information, civic technology and civic engagement across the state.

    The Civic Info Bill (A3628) calls on the state to allocate $20 million as a seed investment in its FY 2019 budget, and $1 million in subsequent years to ensure effective administration of the original investment.

    Thousands of New Jersey residents supported a 2017 version of the legislation, attending community forums, calling and emailing elected representatives, writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and attending lobby days in the statehouse.

    A main goal of the NJCIC is to build stronger connections between reporters and the communities they serve. The consortium would seek out, evaluate and invest in proposed collaborations among residents, the media industry, technology sector, community organizations and academic partners. The participating higher-education institutions are The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and Rutgers University.

    “If we want New Jersey’s communities to thrive, we need to ensure residents have access to trustworthy, accurate and relevant news and information,” said Mike Rispoli, the director of Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices: New Jersey project. “The Civic Info Bill provides the best opportunity to strengthen, revive and transform local media in the state, and would provide funding for innovative projects around New Jersey that would invigorate public-interest journalism, especially coverage of issues that matter to low-income communities and communities of color.”

    In 2017, Free Press Action Fund launched a campaign to pass an earlier version of the Civic Info Bill. The group is now organizing a statewide campaign to mobilize thousands more in support of the 2018 bill.

    “We will redouble efforts to pass the Civic Info Bill in 2018,” Rispoli said. “Thousands of people across the state have told us that the disappearance of local news and information has left them in the dark about what’s happening in their neighborhoods. They crave more information to make important decisions about their lives. This bill not only would support quality journalism happening right now in New Jersey, but would pioneer a local-news and technology model designed to spark civic engagement and lift up voices from communities feeling left out of the conversation. It would instantly transform our state into a standard-bearer for the rest of the country.”

    Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices: New Jersey initiative has convened public forums in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Glassboro, Hackensack, Montclair, Morristown, Newark, New Brunswick and Tuckerton. Across the state residents have spoken out about how the lack of local news and information has harmed their communities. More meetings and activism are planned as Trenton lawmakers consider the Civic Info Bill.

  • WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission announced that payouts from its broadcast airwaves incentive auction, which raised $19.8 billion in total, would include $10.1 billion for 175 television stations that agreed to relinquish some or all of their channels.

    The FCC, which concluded the auction in February 2017, bought back some of the airwaves TV stations use and sold them to companies including AT&T, Comcast, DISH and T-Mobile that provide broadband and other communications services.

    Today the agency released the list of stations that successfully participated in the auction as well as information on the revenue each individual station will receive for selling off its spectrum rights: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-17-314A2.pdf.

    Of the 175 television stations that sold their licenses, at least 36 are noncommercial outlets. This includes New Jersey public-television stations WNJN and WNJT, which together brought in more than $330 million in auction revenues, which are two of the largest individual payouts of any noncommercial stations. Now both stations plan to go off the air. All told, noncommercial television stations will receive more than $2.4 billion from the auction.

    Earlier this year, Free Press Action Fund unveiled its News Voices spectrum campaign, which is urging New Jersey lawmakers to use the state’s auction revenues to give communities the news and information they need.

    In March, Free Press Action Fund proposed the formation of the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, which would invest revenue from the sale of New Jersey’s public broadcasting stations in community news-and-information projects. Funds could support projects that strengthen public-interest journalism, advance research and innovation in the media field, develop and deploy civic technology, and promote civic engagement.

    In the months ahead Free Press Action Fund will expand this campaign beyond New Jersey to communities around the country where local stations also participated in the spectrum auction.

    Mike Rispoli, Free Press Action Fund journalism campaign director and director of the News Voices: New Jersey project, made the following statement:

    “This auction marks a shift in the ways that public-broadcasting spectrum will be used, but that doesn’t mean the beneficiaries of this sale should abandon their obligation to serve their communities.

    “When local stations go off the air, news coverage disappears. That means people are less informed, civic participation drops and political corruption increases. Spectrum revenues must be used to support those who rely on locally produced news and information to engage with their neighbors, learn about volunteer opportunities, make decisions about voting, run for public office, get information about small businesses and support their children in local schools.

    “Some ideas we’ve heard from journalists and community members on how to use these public proceeds include support for locally focused digital news startups; apps and tools to help people sift through public data and expedite FOIA requests; robust community-engagement projects designed to lift up voices long ignored by newsrooms, in communities of color, immigrant communities, and other underserved areas; and media-literacy programs to identify and combat the spread of fake news and disinformation.

    “These publicly owned airwaves came with the obligation to serve the people in the selling stations’ local broadcast areas. It’s only right that money from the sale of the state’s 20th-century media outlets be used to create a new, forward-thinking media landscape for this century that focuses on local communities and is attuned to residents’ needs.”

  • TRENTON — Free Press Action Fund on Wednesday called on the New Jersey legislature to use money from the auction of the state’s public-TV stations to create a New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a joint initiative with four of the state’s leading universities to invest in community-information needs.

    The proposal for the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium was unveiled by Mike Rispoli, the director of Free Press’ News Voices: New Jersey project, as he testified before New Jersey’s State Assembly Budget Committee.

    The consortium would issue grants to benefit the state’s civic life and meet the evolving information needs of New Jersey’s underserved communities. The project would support Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and Rutgers University in partnering with media outlets, technology companies and community groups.

    In his testimony, Rispoli asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the state legislature to allocate a portion of the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue the state will receive from the Federal Communications Commission’s broadcast-incentive auction to support the news and information needs of communities across the state. The FCC auctioned off the state’s public-TV licenses as part of an effort to free up spectrum for wireless phone services. Christie confirmed this week that the money from the sale of New Jersey’s public-media licenses will make up part of an anticipated $325 million in state-asset sales included in the recently released state budget.

    “This is an opportunity that would make New Jersey a model for the rest of the nation,” Rispoli said in his testimony. “The Civic Information Consortium would invest revenue from the sale into supporting projects that strengthen public-interest journalism, advance research and innovation in the media field, develop and deploy civic technology throughout New Jersey’s communities, and promote civic engagement.”

    Rispoli’s full written testimony is available here: https://www.newsvoices.org/sites/default/files/resources/mike_rispoli_budget_testimony.pdf

    With a one-time investment of $100 million from the proceeds of the spectrum sale, the consortium over the course of 10 years could pay out up to $13 million a year to projects aimed at better informing New Jersey residents. By enlisting the brightest minds of the state’s universities, the Civic Information Consortium would allow New Jersey to lead the way nationally in creating a forward-thinking media landscape attuned to residents’ needs.

    “When news coverage disappears, people are less informed, civic participation drops and political corruption increases,” Rispoli testified. “People rely on locally produced news and information to engage with their neighbors, to learn about volunteer opportunities, to make decisions about voting, to run for public office, to get information about small businesses and to support our children in local schools.

    More information about the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium is available here: https://www.newsvoices.org/sites/default/files/resources/proposal_for_the_new_jersey_civic_information_consortium.pdf

    Over the past two years Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices: New Jersey project has worked to build stronger connections between residents and reporters and ensure that local journalism serves community needs. To date News Voices has convened meetings and helped build networks in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Morristown, Newark and New Brunswick.