Activists Gear Up for the Civic Info Bill Lobby Day

On Mon., June 19, I will join Free Press Action Fund members from across New Jersey who are descending on Trenton to lobby legislators in support of the Civic Info Bill (A4933/S3303).

This bill would create a consortium of leading state universities working in partnership with digital innovators, community groups and local journalists to provide grants for impactful reporting in communities around New Jersey. The consortium would receive $20 million annually over a five-year period.

During the Civic Info Bill Lobby Day, we’ll meet with lawmakers and explain how this legislation is a key step toward fixing New Jersey’s local news crisis. Thousands of newsroom jobs have disappeared and dozens of news outlets have shut down throughout New Jersey over the last decade. These cuts have harmed communities by reducing the amount of news and civic information residents have access to. And studies have shown that a lack of local news coverage leads to lower civic-participation rates and more political corruption.

The Civic Info Bill will break new ground in how public funds can be used to deliver news and information to the public. That’s why Free Press Action Fund has held events around the state and met with residents to get their ideas on how to better inform their communities.

Some of the amazing ideas we’ve heard from attendees include an Americorps-for-journalists program to a right-to-know institute that would shed light on government laws and policies. These kinds of projects would renew a sense of community and purpose in towns and cities across the state by focusing attention on the issues that matter most to residents.

In addition to lobbying lawmakers directly on Monday, we will deliver a petition with nearly 1,700 signatures in support of the Civic Info Bill as well as a related letter from Free Press Action Fund and allied groups.

Petition signers shared their thoughts about the need for stronger local media with us. “A free and flourishing press leads to a vibrant democracy,” said Barry of Bayonne.

John Sansky of Clinton said, “Better local coverage is crucial in enabling me to make good choices as a citizen of New Jersey. “

The action we’re taking Monday culminates weeks of community-engagement events held by Free Press Action Fund to inform local residents of the $332-million the state will be receiving from the sale of old public-media stations and to gather their ideas on how a portion of this money could be used to better inform New Jersey residents. 

Through those events, it’s become clear that residents crave locally produced information to engage in local politics, make electoral decisions, and keep abreast of everything from road closures to the impacts of climate change on their communities.  

By creating a sustainable institution, the relatively small amount of money that New Jersey will spend over the next five years could have a lasting impact for decades.

As one New Jersey resident said at one of our events, “Information is a commodity you need in a democracy.” The Civic Information Consortium would make more information — and more useful information — available at the local level.

Moreover, the Civic Info Bill’s passage would make the state a national leader when it comes to better-informed and connected communities. New Jersey communities would have an institution committed to improving local news coverage throughout the state, alleviating some of the gaps that currently exist.  Without adequate information on issues ranging from local elections to environmental contamination in area neighborhoods, residents can’t come together and act for their collective well-being.

Such gaps particularly afflict communities of color, low-income communities and other historically marginalized groups. 

The primary sponsors of the Civic Info Bill in the Assembly are Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, Assemblywoman Liz Muoio and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. The current co-sponsors of the bill are Assemblyman Thomas Giblin, Assemblyman Troy Singleton and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker.

In the Senate, the primary sponsors are Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Sen. Patrick Diegnan.

If the legislature passes the bill this month as part of the state’s budget, it will go to the office of Gov. Chris Christie.

For now, we’re in a race to the finish line to see through the passage of the Civic Info Bill. We recognize that this may be New Jersey’s best chance in this generation to ensure local communities get the news and information they need.

Click here to join the Civic Info Bill Lobby Day on Mon., June 19.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good