TRENTON, N.J. — On Thursday, the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium announced its inaugural round of grants, the result of Free Press Action’s years-long efforts to engage local journalists, organizers, advocates, residents and lawmakers to support public funding to foster more informed communities.
Earlier today, the consortium announced 14 news-and-information initiatives that will receive grants of up to $35,000. This series of grants, made possible from $500,000 in FY2021 funding by the state of New Jersey, represents a first-of-its-kind state-funding model. These grants will support quality local journalism in the midst of a local-news crisis that has left communities in the dark and led to rampant disinformation.
In 2017 and 2018, Free Press Action brought together a broad coalition of universities, journalists, advocates, lawmakers and state residents in a joint effort to create the Civic Information Consortium. Free Press Action is now urging the state of New Jersey to provide ongoing support so that the consortium can continue to offer grants for local-journalism and civic-technology projects, with an emphasis on efforts designed to better serve low-income communities, communities of color, immigrants and rural residents.
The New Jersey consortium offers a model for other state legislatures seeking to address the emergence of local-news deserts alongside the ongoing failure of traditional commercial news outlets to serve communities of color.
Free Press Action News Voices Director Mike Rispoli, who is also a member of the Civic Information Consortium board, made the following statement:
“This is a moment for celebration for New Jersey residents, for the innovative projects being funded and for everyone working to transform local news around the country. New Jersey and the Civic Information Consortium are showing how to address the harms inflicted when a community loses local-news sources. Bold initiatives like this will help keep communities informed, spark civic engagement and counteract the dangerous and deadly spread of disinformation and bigotry.
“This historic moment would not have been possible if not for the thousands of New Jerseyans who organized to reimagine how local news can be more equitable, accessible and sustainable. We must also thank the many forward-thinking New Jersey lawmakers who took action to pass innovative public policy. We hope that other states will look to the New Jersey model when searching for new ways to support independent local news.
“The pandemic has underscored the vital role that a vibrant local-news infrastructure plays in keeping people safe and healthy, and able to look out for the economic welfare of their families and communities. It has also highlighted the importance of having a more robustly funded noncommercial media sector, not just in New Jersey but across the United States. This inaugural round of grants is a first step toward revitalizing and transforming the ways we think about future funding for local media.
“The consortium is now working to support valuable local-news coverage and elevate the voices of people of color and others who have been systematically ignored or misrepresented by many media outlets. Free Press Action is calling on New Jersey lawmakers and Governor Murphy to increase their support for the consortium and the essential news-and-information services it will help provide to people across the state.”
Grant recipients are working in nearly every part of the state. Their work is focused primarily on projects that seek to diversify participation in journalism, improve government transparency and provide community-health information during the COVID-19 emergency.
The inaugural class of grantees:
- Beyond Expectations will continue its outreach work with young people in Burlington County by launching “be.tv eStudios,” an initiative that provides students with the resources they need to better participate in immersive interactive learning.
- The Blairstown Enhancement Committee will address the loss of local-news outlets by launching the Greater Blairstown News Project. This effort will provide residents with vital and timely government announcements about public health and safety, and foster greater connection to and awareness of local issues across northwest New Jersey.
- The Bloomfield Information Project will launch a community-reporter-corps pilot program that trains residents in newsgathering, writing, and production and provides paid reporting assignments that prioritize the information needs of underserved populations in the surrounding community.
- Cosecha, a New Jersey grassroots organization run by and for Latinx immigrants, will work with Rutgers University to establish Radio Popular, a twice-weekly Spanish-language internet-radio program for the state’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community.
- The Conservatory of Music and Performing Arts Society will support Let My People Learn-HistorVic Education, a project that helps young people learn more about the workings of local governments and how policies and laws impact their communities.
- The weekly Hammonton Gazette will make its news coverage more representative of Hammonton’s southern New Jersey community. The paper will offer news articles in Spanish and initiate outreach to seasonal agricultural workers and more permanent members of the local Spanish-speaking community.
- If I Can, You Can Inc. will help revitalize the online neighborhood-news franchise TapInto.net in Salem County with the goal of sharing news articles across New Jersey towns to create a more sustainable information ecosystem.
- The Newark News and Story Collaborative will train community members to tell their stories and produce news that fills information gaps in local and national media.
- The Newark Water Coalition will create Newark Community Voices, a digital-media and community-organizing training program for Newark youth. The program will produce and distribute multimedia health and environment stories that center Newark community-information needs.
- The Facebook group Old Bridge NJ Residents will create a comprehensive and searchable archive of local-government activity spanning more than two decades. The tool will be made available to area residents and journalists.
- The Paterson Alliance will manage the library-based Paterson Information Hub to provide the community with training in citizen journalism and news-production technology. The alliance will also convene local events to assess community-information needs.
- The collaborative Stories of Atlantic City project will pilot an initiative to train community members to serve as reporters covering the local city council and planning and educational board hearings. The initiative will develop new ways to engage community members in the decision-making processes that impact their lives.
- The hyperlocal Trenton Journal will train more local contributors to increase the frequency of its editorial output and help change the narrative about what it’s like to live in Trenton.
- Princeton-based health-information website VaccinateNJ.com will add more features to its online resource to help residents statewide — including native Spanish speakers and others in underserved communities — get real-time information about vaccination appointment locations and vaccine availability.
To learn more about News Voices: New Jersey, visit: https://www.freepress.net/issues/future-journalism/local-journalism/where-were-working/news-voices-new-jersey