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TRENTON, N.J. — On Wednesday, Free Press Action released a case study on the historic campaign to pass the Civic Info Bill and create a state consortium to transform local journalism in New Jersey.

The study, authored by Kevin Davis, Amy Kroin and Mike Rispoli, covers the multi-year campaign to address the decimation of local news in New Jersey, a crisis that has disproportionately harmed low-income communities, people of color, rural communities and immigrants. 

The campaign culminated in the 2018 passage of the Civic Info Bill and the subsequent creation of the Civic Information Consortium, which has given out nearly $2.5 million in grants and was recently allocated $4 million by the state to support local news-and-information initiatives. “The legislation, which passed with strong bipartisan support, came as a direct result of the grassroots campaign led by Free Press Action, which brought together local organizers, universities, artists, students, media-makers and other stakeholders to mobilize thousands of people across the state,” the study reads. 

Since it began grantmaking in June 2021, the Civic Information Consortium has awarded grants to some 30 organizations, focusing on diversifying journalism, improving government transparency, better serving communities of color and immigrant communities, and providing community-health news, among other crucial information. 

Mike Rispoli, Free Press Action's senior director of journalism policy, said:

“The creation of the Civic Information Consortium was seen as a longshot — and what our case study showcases is how years of engaging with a variety of stakeholders, public listening sessions, and a grassroots campaign led to passage of one of the most significant pieces of media policy our country has seen in the past decade. 

“The creation of the consortium has had a tangible impact on the lives of New Jersey residents around the state, including the hardworking grantees who are working hard to better cover their communities, engage with new audiences and solve deep-rooted issues in local media. 

“Funding from the consortium has supported initiatives to help spark civic engagement, expand access to public health and COVID-19 information, make government more transparent and accountable to the public, and diversify journalism’s pipeline so that the reporters serving New Jersey’s communities better represent the beautiful diversity of our state. A grant to Cosecha, for example, will help the organization work with Rutgers University to air a radio show serving the state’s Spanish-speaking immigrants.

“None of this would have been possible without the thousands of New Jersey residents who took action to support the Civic Info Bill by lobbying their legislators, participating in public meetings and sharing their stories about how the lack of local news in the state was harming their communities. We hope this case study not only captures what happened during the campaign from the people who were there, but serves as a call to action for all those working to keep communities informed and engaged. 

“Over the past 15 years, the United States has lost more than half the newspaper reporters covering state and local beats. This New Jersey case study will serve as a roadmap for other states exploring new ways to revitalize independent local news. More robust funding of noncommercial media is a lifeline for communities seeking to become more engaged and empowered. At a time when news deserts are spreading across the country, the case study identifies ways to ensure that people have the news and information they need and deserve.”

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