TRENTON — Activists fanned out across New Jersey on May 23 to meet with state lawmakers and urge them to support legislation that would breathe new life into local news and information.
In a day of action that stretched from Trenton to Teaneck, New Jerseyans met with elected members of the State Assembly and Senate on behalf of the Civic Info Bill (S2317/A3628). This legislation would create a public fund to invest millions of dollars in innovative projects designed to revive local news coverage, community and municipal information, and civic engagement across New Jersey.
Lawmakers introduced the bill last year after New Jersey received $332 million from the auction of the state’s two main public-TV stations, WNJN and WNJT. The legislature missed an opportunity to pass the bill in 2017, but thanks to an outpouring of public support, lawmakers revived the Civic Info Bill this year.
The 2018 version of the Civic Info Bill calls on the state to allocate $20 million as a seed investment in its FY 2019 budget, and $1 million in subsequent years to ensure effective administration of the original investment.
If passed, the law would help improve the quantity and quality of information in New Jersey communities, which would benefit longstanding and startup news outlets alike while also launching statewide media-literacy and civic-engagement programs. It would also provide grants to support the information needs of the state’s low-income communities and communities of color.
Supporters of the Civic Info Bill visited the offices of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (LD-19) in Woodbridge, Senate President Steve Sweeney (LD-3) in West Deptford, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (LD-7) in Delran, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (LD-37) in Teaneck, and Sen. Joseph Lagana (LD-38) in Paramus.
“The Day of Action facilitated our ability as constituents to bring to lawmakers the important message about the need for better local news and information in New Jersey,“ said Keith Shaw, who visited Assemblyman Conaway’s office. “It also helped lawmakers and their staff better understand what we are trying to accomplish with this bill. Through this process, I feel like I’ve been able to build a better relationship with the staff of my state representative.”
“Yesterday’s Day of Action gave residents across the state the chance to tell lawmakers why local news and information is the lifeblood of their communities,” said Free Press Acton Fund Organizer James L. Thompson. “The bill could be a savior for communities across New Jersey, especially those who have seen coverage disappear or who have been overlooked by traditional news outlets. There’s little more than a month left for lawmakers to consider the bill. A simple call from constituents or a visit to a lawmaker’s district offices could be the catalyst for getting the local reporting and information services we desperately need.”
“Thousands of people across the state have told us that the disappearance of local news and information has left them in the dark about what’s happening in their neighborhoods,” said Mike Rispoli, the director of Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices: New Jersey project. “That’s why we’ve seen so much support for the Civic Info Bill. Residents crave more information to make important decisions about their lives. This bill would not only support quality journalism happening right now in New Jersey, but would pioneer a local-news and technology model designed to spark civic engagement and lift up voices from communities feeling left out of the conversation. It would instantly transform our state into a standard-bearer for the rest of the country.”
Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices: New Jersey initiative has convened public forums about the Civic Info Bill in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Glassboro, Hackensack, Montclair, Morristown, Newark, New Brunswick and Tuckerton. Across the state thousands of residents have spoken out about how the lack of local news and information has harmed their communities. More meetings and activism are planned as Trenton lawmakers consider this legislation.