Last Wednesday, May 23, was a big day in New Jersey for providers of local news and information. It was called a “day of action” to rally support for the Civic Info Bill, a measure that would create a public fund to invest millions of dollars in innovative projects to revive local news coverage, community and municipal information, and civic engagement across the state. The bill calls for $20 million as a seed investment with $1 million allocated in subsequent years to administer the initial investment.
The money would come from the $332 million raised in the auction of the state’s two principal public television stations, WNJN and WNJT. The proposed 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,” according to a press statement issued by the group. To quote two more paragraphs from the statement:
“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 Action 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.”
The Free Press Action Fund reported that it has convened public forums across the state and that “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.”
The extent of the problems faced by community newsgatherers in New Jersey might be evidenced by the fact that U.S. 1 newspaper, which has spoken out on several occasions about the importance of local news, did not know about the “day of action” until it was over.