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. Reporters are out of work, TV stations are closing down, and public media’s budget has been slashed. Meanwhile, local news startups are experimenting with business models, providing fresh voices — and struggling to gain a foothold in their communities.
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 at our forums and are teaming up with local newsrooms and community members. Some of these partnerships include community advisory boards and collaborative storytelling projects, with each project designed to address 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 boost local journalism. We have to ensure that a significant portion of the auction proceeds is invested in a trust fund devoted to serving community-information needs.
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.
Turning the auction into a public trust fund 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 trust should look like and what kinds of projects it could support. Public input is crucial: Join us in transforming local journalism and local communities.