On March 5 Governor Phil Murphy delivered a budget speech outlining his vision for the upcoming fiscal year. Absent from the governor’s list of priorities, in both his speech and his released budget brief, was his prior commitment to fully fund the Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind initiative to strengthen local-news coverage and boost civic engagement across the state.
The bill establishing the consortium passed the state legislature last year and was signed into law. But while the state’s 2019 budget dedicated $5 million for the consortium, Murphy said the earmarked funds were not available.
Since then Free Press Action has been working with the consortium’s legislative champions, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and State Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, to secure funding for this historic effort that would ensure residents have access to quality news and information about their communities.
The passage of legislation to create the consortium drew national headlines in 2018 as an innovative state-level response to the local-news crisis — at a time when news outlets across the country have cut back on staff and operations.
The proposed consortium is a collaboration among five of the state’s leading public higher-education institutions: The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University, and Rutgers University. Through its News Voices: New Jersey initiative, Free Press Action conceived of the idea for the consortium and helped gather bipartisan support to pass legislation to fund it.
Free Press Action New Jersey Organizer James Thompson made the following statement:
“There’s no other way to put it: Governor Murphy’s decision to exclude funding for the Civic Information Consortium is a disappointment to anyone hoping for better news and information in New Jersey. The governor made a commitment to the people of the state when he signed the Civic Info Bill into law last year, and publicly pledged to secure funding for it. And yet he still hasn’t said how he intends to give the consortium the funds it needs to succeed.
“New Jersey media are in crisis, with journalists losing their jobs on a regular basis and the threat of even more media consolidation looming. Failing to fund the consortium would deal a serious blow to civic engagement and dialogue for people across the state.
“Studies have shown that when local news disappears, fewer people vote, fewer people volunteer, political polarization increases and people feel disconnected from their communities. The threat of a barren media landscape is why New Jersey lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike — passed this legislation in 2018. It’s why thousands of New Jerseyans supported the bill by participating in public forums, brainstorming ways to better inform their communities and lobbying their elected officials.
“Free Press Action will continue to fight for residents who have suffered as a result of the local-news crisis, and who need access to quality news and information in their communities. We look forward to working with Senate Majority Leader Weinberg, Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald, other legislators, and the governor to ensure the consortium receives the funding it was originally promised.”
Free Press Action is a Massachusetts-based nonpartisan organization fighting for people’s rights to connect and communicate. www.freepress.net