TRENTON — On Monday, New Jersey State Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald reintroduced the Civic Info Bill. The legislation would establish and fund the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium (NJCIC), an initiative uniting several of New Jersey’s leading higher-education institutions to invest in projects that would strengthen local news coverage, community information, civic technology and civic engagement across the state.
The Civic Info Bill (A3628) 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.
Thousands of New Jersey residents supported a 2017 version of the legislation, attending community forums, calling and emailing elected representatives, writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and attending lobby days in the statehouse.
A main goal of the NJCIC is to build stronger connections between reporters and the communities they serve. The consortium would seek out, evaluate and invest in proposed collaborations among residents, the media industry, technology sector, community organizations and academic partners. The participating higher-education institutions are The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and Rutgers University.
“If we want New Jersey’s communities to thrive, we need to ensure residents have access to trustworthy, accurate and relevant news and information,” said Mike Rispoli, the director of Free Press Action Fund’s News Voices: New Jersey project. “The Civic Info Bill provides the best opportunity to strengthen, revive and transform local media in the state, and would provide funding for innovative projects around New Jersey that would invigorate public-interest journalism, especially coverage of issues that matter to low-income communities and communities of color.”
In 2017, Free Press Action Fund launched a campaign to pass an earlier version of the Civic Info Bill. The group is now organizing a statewide campaign to mobilize thousands more in support of the 2018 bill.
“We will redouble efforts to pass the Civic Info Bill in 2018,” Rispoli said. “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. They crave more information to make important decisions about their lives. This bill not only would 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 in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Glassboro, Hackensack, Montclair, Morristown, Newark, New Brunswick and Tuckerton. Across the state 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 the Civic Info Bill.