The bill (S2317/A3628) would create the Civic Information Consortium, a nonprofit that would invest in innovative projects designed to transform the way local residents get information about their communities.
Spearheaded by Free Press Action Fund and sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, the bill has drawn bipartisan support from 16 sponsors who represent all regions of the state.
Dire need for better news
New Jersey has seen thousands of newsroom layoffs and dozens of media-outlet closings over the past decade, and residents around the state have suffered the consequences. That’s why the public has been so energized to support the bill by signing petitions, making phone calls, attending community events and even dropping by their lawmakers’ local offices.
Still, some lawmakers haven’t been totally sold on why the crisis in local news is a crisis for New Jersey’s communities. That’s why Monday’s Lobby Day was so important — it allowed Free Press Action Fund members, allies and activists to show elected officials that they care about the direction of their democracy and want to ensure that people can stay informed about the important issues that affect their neighborhoods.
Residents speak out
Free Press Action Fund members and activists came together to staff an informational table and fanned across the building to pull aside lawmakers and make their case for why supporting the Civic Info Bill is so essential.
“The Civic Info Bill would provide funding for organizations that are doing things for the public good, and as citizens of the state, this is something we want our tax dollars spent on,” said North Brunswick resident Ron River of Our Society, a New Jersey based civic-tech company that’s creating platforms to enable more civic participation. “[Projects] that help push society forward, that open up information and make sure it is accessible by all members of society no matter where they live, are important and the Civic Info Consortium is one of those [efforts].”
For some Lobby Day participants, like Trenton-based radio producer Julian Seward, this was the first time they’d had the opportunity to lobby their lawmakers one on one. A radio DJ for WPPM in Trenton, Seward has to travel to Philadelphia to broadcast and reach people back in his community.
“This was the first time I had a chance to lobby,” said Seward. “I’m a producer of content, but because I have no means of doing so here, I create my content in Philly at 106.5. I think the Civic Info Bill will help content creators come back from Philly and New York to make home-produced and homegrown stories.”
When all was said and done, everyone participating said they felt empowered to relay their messages about local news directly to lawmakers.
The Lobby Day couldn’t have happened at a better time — this was one of the last chances to say in person to why this important initiative deserves the support of New Jersey lawmakers. The June 30 budget deadline is fast approaching and the legislature is in the process of deciding what priorities will make it into the fiscal-year 2019 budget.
While hearings are being scheduled for the bill in the Senate and Assembly, the Lobby Day kept lawmakers accountable to moving the bill forward and gaining more support.
Make the call before it’s too late: Tell your lawmakers to sign on to the Civic Info Bill to give their constituents the news and information they deserve.