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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:

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:

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.

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