TRENTON — On Tuesday, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald announced plans to introduce a new version of the “Civic Info Bill” in the 2018 session.
The legislation would establish and fund the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, an initiative uniting several of New Jersey’s leading higher-education institutions to invest in projects that strengthen news coverage, community information, civic technology and civic engagement across the state.
The consortium — which would seek out, evaluate and invest in proposals from residents working in collaboration with the media industry, technology sector, community organizations and academic partners — would include The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and Rutgers University.
“The future of New Jersey is deeply intertwined with how our residents get news and information about the communities and state they live in,” Sen. Weinberg and Assemblyman Greenwald said in a joint statement. “People across New Jersey this past year have made their voices heard: Something must be done to strengthen news at the local level, especially in low-income communities and communities of color, and we need to be investing in innovative business models and technologies aimed at keeping people informed.”
Earlier this year, Free Press Action Fund launched the campaign to pass the 2017 version of the Civic Info Bill. Since then, thousands of New Jersey residents have taken action to support the legislation by attending public forums, signing petitions, calling state lawmakers, lobbying their statehouse representatives and writing letters to the editor of their local news outlets.
“It’s because of this support that we are proud to say we are committed to making this bill a reality, and will introduce similar legislation once the legislature reconvenes in 2018,” Weinberg and Greenwald said. “We look forward to working with passionate Garden State residents in 2018 to improve the quantity and quality of civic information in New Jersey communities.”
“We will redouble efforts to pass the Civic Info Bill in 2018,” said Mike Rispoli, the director of Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices: New Jersey project. “Countless people across the state have told us that the disappearance of local news and information has made them feel detached from their communities. While there is good journalism happening right now in New Jersey, we need to find ways to strengthen it while also investing in how our communities are informed. This bill would pioneer a local-news and civic-technology model for our state that lifts up voices that are not always heard from in the media.”
The 2017 version of the Civic Info Bill called on the state to allocate $100 million in proceeds from the federal broadcast-incentive auction, in which the sale of the licenses of New Jersey public-television stations WNJN and WNJT brought in more than $330 million in revenues. Details for the 2018 version of the Civic Info Bill, including the funding mechanism and amount, will be finalized when the bill is reintroduced next year.
Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices: New Jersey project works to build stronger connections between residents and reporters and ensure that local journalism serves community needs. News Voices has convened meetings and helped build news-and-information networks in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Glassboro, Montclair, Morristown, Newark and New Brunswick.