TRENTON — On Monday, advocates rallied in Trenton in support of legislation that would use millions in proceeds from the recent spectrum auction to help fix New Jersey’s local news crisis.
Led by Free Press Action Fund, people representing more than a dozen local and national advocacy organizations urged state legislators to pass A4933/S3303 to form the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind collaboration among leading research universities, digital innovators, community groups and everyday people to fund innovation in local news, community information, civic technology and civic engagement.
Advocates delivered a letter to Gov. Chris Christie and leaders of the State Assembly and Senate that called on them to prioritize passing the legislation before the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is finalized on June 30.
“The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium represents our state’s opportunity to demonstrate a transformative new model, utilizing a portion of the $332 million in revenue recently earned from the FCC’s auction of two of the state’s old public-media stations,” reads the letter. “These stations were created to serve the public interest; it’s only right that the funds from their sale be used to rebuild local news and information.”
The letter (available here) was signed by more than 60 organizations, including representatives of the state’s leading Hispanic civic and media organizations.
Signers include Action 21 Immigrants Rights Advocacy Group, Action Together New Jersey, Alliance for Community Media, Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, Anti-Poverty Network of NJ, Citizens Campaign, Colombian American Congress, Color Of Change, Dominican American Leadership Council, Dominican Times News, Ecuadorian-American Chamber of Commerce, El Americano News, El Coqui-Puerto Rican/Latino News, El Nacional News, Free Press Action Fund, Guatemalan Merchant Association of New Jersey, Hispanic American Commerce Association of Hudson County, Hispanic American Political Action Committee, Hispanic Women Entrepreneurs and Networking Association of Essex, Hudson, Passaic and Union Counties, International Association of Hispanic Journalists & Entertainment, LAP Latino Alliance for Progress, Latin American Democratic Association, Latino Chamber of Commerce of Essex County, League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Media Mobilizing Project, New Jersey Policy Perspective, New Labor, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, Peruvian American Coalition of New Jersey, Negocios Hispanos USA, Newark Hispanic Merchant Association, and the Newark Hispanic Pastors Association, among others.
Advocates also met with legislators as they delivered petitions signed by more than 1,700 New Jersey residents to the offices of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, Senate Budget Chairman Paul Sarlo and Assembly Budget Chairman Gary Schaer.
“The hundreds of millions received from the recent sale of old public-media stations represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give New Jerseyans the news and information they need to participate fully in our democracy,” said Mike Rispoli, Free Press Action Fund’s journalism campaign director and the director of the News Voices: New Jersey project, which has organized public support for the Civic Information Consortium. “Thousands of newsroom jobs have disappeared and dozens of news outlets have shut down throughout New Jersey over the last decade. By passing this legislation, we can take a significant leap toward restoring local news coverage, elevating the voices of the state’s most marginalized residents, increasing civic participation, and making local politicians more responsive to the needs of their constituents.”
“New Jersey has its own vibrant and diverse culture, economy, environment, political system and more … all of which deserve the robust coverage that only news coverage focused at the local level can provide,” Lauren of Plainsboro, New Jersey, wrote in one petition comment. ”I stand in support of local news coverage, and urge you to do the same by supporting A4933/S3303.”
The legislation, which the majority leaders of the State Assembly and Senate introduced on June 1, would break new ground in how public funds can be used to deliver essential news and information to the public. It would create a partnership with Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and Rutgers University and establish a governing structure for the consortium to provide funding for grants to organizations engaged in fulfilling the news-and-information needs of communities statewide.
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. News Voices has convened meetings and helped build networks in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Glassboro, Hackensack, Montclair, Morristown, Newark, New Brunswick and Tuckerton.