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State must fulfill its commitment to fully fund first-of-its-kind initiative to create a new consortium strengthening local news and civic engagement

TRENTON — On Friday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation creating the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind fund with the mission of reviving, strengthening and transforming local media in New Jersey.

The bipartisan legislation (A3628) passed the New Jersey Legislature earlier this summer after thousands of New Jersey residents joined a Free Press Action Fund campaign and called on state leaders to address dwindling local news coverage. The FY 2019 budget, passed by the legislature and signed by Murphy, dedicated $5 million in initial funding for the consortium.  

In a signing statement Friday, Murphy declared an “unwavering commitment to strengthening news outlets in New Jersey at this very critical time in our history.” But the governor also indicated that money set aside for the consortium in the budget had been used for other purposes. “I am advised by the State Treasurer that far less than $5 million remains available in the Trust Fund for potential transfer to the consortium,” Murphy wrote. “Nonetheless, I am hopeful that a sufficient amount of funding will be available to support the consortium as it begins its important work.”

The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium would invest in projects to revitalize local news, community information, civic engagement and technology across the state. Free Press Action Fund 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.

Mike Rispoli, director of Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices project, made the following statement:

"Governor Murphy dedicated money in the budget and now has signed into law an ambitious project that will change how New Jersey is informed and engaged. Now he needs to fulfill this commitment by ensuring that all the funds he has pledged are available for the Civic Information Consortium. Without proper funding the initiative has little chance of success.

“If funded fully, the consortium would serve as a model for other states to follow, supporting a 21st-century public-interest media system rooted in local communities, based on collaboration and focused on lifting up unheard voices.

"The governor's actions in signing this bill create a historic opportunity for the state to reverse the crisis in local news coverage and meet the needs of communities clamoring for more information and new and diverse voices. But the governor’s statement calls into question the availability of funds necessary for the consortium to function. We need much more direct answers about what happened to funds clearly set aside in the state budget. And we will fight to ensure that the state doesn’t fritter away this historic opportunity.

“New Jerseyans came out by the thousands to support this new concept for local journalism and civic engagement. Now that it’s the law, the governor and the legislature must follow through with the funding required to make the consortium a reality."

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