New Jersey spends $5 million to transform local media; it’s not really good news for our industry

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently approved dedicating $5 million to the Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit with a mission to revive, strengthen and transform local media in New Jersey.

Legislation that will create the consortium, nicknamed the Civic Info Bill, passed the legislature and is on Gov. Murphy’s desk awaiting his signature.

Sounds like great news, right? Well, here’s a communication from the New Jersey Press Association that raises questions about the bill’s intent and other issues: 

“We wanted to make you aware of recent legislation passed in New Jersey (and previously in North Carolina) which could spread to other states. A national 501(c)3 organization called FreePress (https://www.freepress.net) aggressively pushed through a bill to establish the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium to which the state will make a one-time allocation of $5 million to five state universities ($1 million each) to provide online coverage of local news and information,” said Peggy Arbitell, business manager for NJPA.

“The bill (and Free Press) asserts that coverage of local matters has suffered in recent years due to cutbacks in the news industry. The original bill called for significantly more upfront funding and annual contributions. While the $5 million in funding is not likely to have a meaningful impact, there is concern that the idea could take root in other states as well and that future state funding could occur. We also do not know how much these five universities will put into this local news effort.

“We have informed the News Media Alliance about the issue, and they will reach out to the state press associations to make sure they are prepared in the event that similar initiatives get traction in other states. We also shared NJPA talking points with NMA.”

The bill creates the Civic Information Consortium and will invest the $5 million in projects designed to meet the information needs of residents around New Jersey, especially in underserved communities, low-income communities and communities of color.

The Civic Information Consortium will be a collaborative effort led by The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and Rutgers University.

The Kentucky Press Association and all other state press associations will stay in the loop and keep members up to date on this development. We also will notify New Jersey Press if similar initiatives are rumored in our state.

As retiring Kansas Press executive director Doug Anstaett said, “We have always steadfastly fought any effort by the government to get into the newsgathering and dissemination business. With this development, the camel’s nose is in the tent in New Jersey.” 

 

Interesting Statement from Timothy Karr, Free Press

Late last Sunday night, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy approved dedicating $5 million to the Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit with a mission to revive, strengthen and transform local media in New Jersey. Legislation that will create the consortium, nicknamed the Civic Info Bill, passed the legislature and is on Gov. Murphy’s desk awaiting his signature.

Free Press Action Fund conceived the legislation by drawing on more than two years of community input and engagement. The historic bill creates the Civic Information Consortium and will invest the $5 million in projects designed to meet the information needs of residents around New Jersey, especially in underserved communities, low-income communities and communities of color.

The Civic Information Consortium will be a collaborative effort led by The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan University and Rutgers University. The consortium will fund projects to improve the quantity and quality of news and information in New Jersey communities, which would benefit longstanding and startup news outlets alike while also launching media-literacy and civic-engagement programs.

It will also provide grants to support the information needs of New Jersey’s low-income communities and communities of color. Mike Rispoli, the state director for Free Press Action Fund, made the following statement:

“Today marks a historic victory for all people across New Jersey. Over the last 18 months, residents around the state spoke out in support of the Civic Info Bill. Thousands signed petitions, called their lawmakers, attended community forums and participated in lobby days at the statehouse. Their stories about how communities have suffered from years of media consolidation were the driving force to securing millions of dollars that will strengthen local news and information in towns and cities across New Jersey. “Never before has a state taken the lead to address the growing crisis in local news.

Trustworthy local journalism is the lifeblood of democracy; it allows people to participate meaningfully in decisions regarding local elections, public schools and policy decisions.

“New Jersey is now a model for the rest of the nation, and we’re grateful for the support of lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald and all the other sponsors of this landmark legislation.

And we thank Governor Murphy for dedicating millions of dollars to launch the Civic Information Consortium. “Now we need to get to work. Free Press Action Fund will ensure that the consortium fulfills its mission of strengthening local journalism, fostering community engagement and amplifying the voices of people of color and other marginalized communities. We look forward to continuing to engage residents around New Jersey to hear how the consortium can support their communities.”

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