TRENTON — The New Jersey Legislature today passed a $38.7-billion budget that includes up to $2 million in funding for the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit with the mission of reviving, strengthening and transforming local media across the state.
When the consortium was created in 2018, it was hailed nationally as a bold new concept for local journalism and civic engagement, placing New Jersey at the forefront of innovation in local news and information while creating a funding model for other states to follow.
While funding in the FY 2020 budget falls short of the $5 million the state pledged last year, this appropriation is a necessary first step for the consortium to invest in projects designed to revitalize local news, community information, civic engagement and technology across the state. Free Press Action developed the legislation by drawing on more than two years of community input, including ways to ensure the consortium responds to the needs of New Jersey residents and protects the independence of the journalism it funds.
The state budget now heads to Gov. Murphy’s desk for review.
Free Press Action News Voices Director Mike Rispoli made the following statement:
“We’re grateful that Governor Murphy created the consortium last year. In order for it to be successful, we urge him to approve the $2 million the legislature allocated for the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium. As the first of its kind in the nation, the consortium has the capacity to transform media in New Jersey and serve as a national model for other states to address their own local-news crises.
“Over the last two years, thousands of people across the state mobilized in support of the consortium: signing petitions, calling their lawmakers, attending community forums and participating in lobby days at the statehouse. Their stories about how their communities have suffered from years of media consolidation were the driving force to secure the money needed to strengthen local news and information in towns and cities across New Jersey.
“While the money already set aside in the budget is a critical first step, it should be seen as the floor. As the governor considers the budget, he shouldn’t cut this item, which amounts to a tiny fraction of the state’s multibillion-dollar budget. Never before has a state taken the lead to address the growing crisis in local news. Trustworthy local journalism is the lifeblood of our democracy: It allows people to participate meaningfully in decisions regarding local elections, public schools and other crucial matters.
“It’s a positive sign that both the governor and state legislature have committed to funding the consortium, and we thank our legislative champions, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald. Free Press Action looks forward to working with them to ensure this much-needed nonprofit receives the $5 million it needs to serve the people of New Jersey.”
New Jersey Policy Perspective President Brandon McKoy made the following statement:
“It’s imperative that Governor Murphy approve $2 million in funding for the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, especially because $5 million in funding was approved last year before the governor subsequently removed it.
"One of the core pillars of any healthy democracy is an informed public, especially when it comes to political issues. A strong local-news outlet best serves its community when it creates an ecosystem of healthy debate and exchange of ideas to build social cohesion and empathy. In fact, the two actually reinforce each other: Local newspapers are important to community engagement and those who feel connected to their communities have stronger ties to local news.
“State budgets are moral documents that represent the priorities and will of residents. In a budget that exceeds $38 billion, New Jersey must make it a priority to dedicate sufficient funds for the consortium. Anything less is unacceptable and will prohibit the consortium from starting its work. We’re calling on Governor Murphy to commit to supporting the consortium with $2 million in funding, which will send a clear message that New Jersey values local news and recognizes its social and economic contributions to a thriving democracy.”