The vast majority of Americans are most concerned with receiving information that directly impacts their lives. Unfortunately in New Jersey, this has not always been the case. We are, in a sense, held hostage by our geography, situated between the country’s numbers one and five media markets. This has helped create a black hole in the coverage of Garden State communities and issues.
Earlier this year, the state legislature attempted to repair this gap. It passed the New Jersey Civic Info Bill, first-of-its-kind legislation that drew a small portion of the $332 million from the sale of old public television licenses to create a public fund that would invest millions in innovative local news and information projects. This legislation, which passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support, was hailed nationwide as a reasonable and fiscally sound way for states to help revive local news coverage, make municipal information more transparent, and increase civic engagement.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law, but it soon hit a snag. The $5 million earmarked for the fund in Fiscal Year 2019 had evaporated due to a budgeting oversight.
Thankfully, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald stepped in and introduced legislation (S-2987 and A-4456, respectively) to provide a $5 million “supplemental appropriation” to cover the gap. It’s now up to the statehouse to pass Weinberg and Greenberg’s measure before the end of this year. If passed, the appropriation would go toward improving the quantity and quality of information in New Jersey communities. It 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, which traditional media outlets have long neglected.
The Civic Info Bill will provide a news and information lifeline for communities across New Jersey, but it needs the funding it was promised to make this bold plan a reality. A simple call from you to your state legislators could be the difference between a more educated and informed society and one covered in the shadows of ignorance.
Please make the call today and help transform New Jersey news.
Steven A. Miller