When it comes to news coverage, New Jersey is one of the most underserved states. Sandwiched between the New York and Philadelphia media markets, New Jersey receives little to no coverage of its state and local governments. Newsrooms are shrinking, TV stations are closing down and public-media funding has been slashed. While local news startups are providing fresh voices, they struggle to break even financially and tackle statewide issues.
New Jersey is a place of both great challenges and great opportunities. Journalists, academics, philanthropists and community leaders are joining together to make the state a model for the future of news.
We launched News Voices: New Jersey in 2015 to bring together communities and newsrooms to tackle problems in cities and neighborhoods throughout the Garden State. We started with community-engagement initiatives in four communities — Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Morristown and New Brunswick — with plans to expand to Camden and Newark in 2017.
Hundreds of people, including journalists, community members, activists, students, faith leaders, union workers and artists, have come together at our events to discuss pressing local issues and ways that they can collaborate to tell stories with impact.
Our work is ongoing. We’re taking what we’ve learned in each community and teaming up with local residents and newsrooms to find ways to tell stories that matter. Some of these partnerships include organizing local forums, training student journalists to work with the community or launching collaborative storytelling projects around local concerns.
Funding the future of news in New Jersey
Imagine if newsrooms across New Jersey could get millions of dollars to do the types of journalism that matter to you and your neighbors. What if your local media outlets didn’t have to rely on clickbait or advertisers to fund their operations? What if these outlets could instead focus on responsive local journalism and serious investigative reporting that amplified diverse voices in your community?
Right now we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do just that.
The state of New Jersey is participating in the Federal Communications Commission’s auction to buy back TV station licenses and redistribute the airwaves to wireless companies. The state owns four broadcast TV licenses, which it currently leases to the New York-based public broadcaster WNET. These licenses are some of the most valuable ones in the country: The FCC estimates they’re worth as much as $2.3 billion.
New Jersey — perhaps more than any other state — needs these kinds of resources to to serve community needs. At Free Press, we’re campaigning to ensure that a significant portion of the auction proceeds is invested in a public fund that could support local projects for decades.
But we need to move fast. There are already a lot of lawmakers, lobbyists and interest groups clamoring to get their hands on this money. Lawmakers have held hearings to discuss how this windfall should be allocated within the state budget. And all this could be happening in an election year when the state will choose a new governor.
Creating a public fund to support community-information needs will require action from the state legislature and the governor. That won’t happen without public involvement and pressure. We have a real shot at securing these funds, but only if we act now.
We’re traveling across the state to gather input on what the fund should look like and what kinds of projects it could support. Public input is crucial: Join us in transforming local journalism and local communities.