A step forward for community news

“We believe that positive social change, racial justice and meaningful engagement in public life require equitable access to technology, diverse and independent ownership of media platforms, and journalism that holds leaders accountable and tells people what’s actually happening in their communities.”Free Press

In a landmark moment Phil Murphy signed the state budget on Sunday night which includes funding $5 million for the Civic Information Consortium – a first-of-its-kind nonprofit with a mission to revive, strengthen and transform local media in New Jersey. He still has to sign the bill that sets up the consortium, and is expected to do so shortly. 

Free Press, created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media, started the campaign 18 months ago – a pipe dream at that point – now nearing reality. The consortium will be a nonprofit group supported by five of the state’s universities. A board of directors will approve grants to strengthen local news coverage. One goal of the proposed grants might be to “better meet the information needs of low-income communities and racial and ethnic communities that have been underserved by the media.” The Free Press (preview image above) held one of ten meetings in Morristown last year to discuss community journalism projects. (credit: Timothy Karr | Free Press Action Fund)

Hoboken newstand 1912

While news outlets in New Jersey are still producing quality journalism, and have a long history of doing so, gone are the days of everyone having home delivery or picking up a newspaper at a stand. We have seen many newsroom layoffs, outlets shutting down and many communities in the dark. 

Most of our newspapers and accompanying digital versions have merged into one of two corporations, ending “diverse and independent ownership,” leading to monopolies. 

  • New Jersey Advance Media: Star-Ledger, nj.com, South Jersey Times, Ledger Somerset Observer, Leehigh valley.com, Hunterdon Observer and more. 
  • Gannett: APP.com, The Record, northjersey.com, Courier-Post, Home News Tribune,  Daily Record, The Daily Journal, Herald News, and more, plus, USA Today and local media in other states.

Gannett has instituted paywalls which allow a viewer to read only a few articles each month without paying a subscription fee. Such restricts “equitable access” only to those who can afford it. 

These monopolistic firms now spend few resources on investigative journalism which could hold “leaders accountable.” They have little interest in reporting on municipal or county news, such as council meetings, unless they have some sensational aspect. In effect they are not telling people “what’s actually happening in their communities.” 

The motion picture, book, and music industries seem to have found ways of generating sufficient revenue within the world of new media, TV is still struggling, and the press is faring poorly. There remain independent NJ news websites, but the most endangered is local news. While the original proposal was for $100 Million, the much-reduced $5 Million is a positive step forward and might serve as a catalyst.

Comment (1)

  1. deciminyan

    Let’s not forget NJ Spotlight which is probably the best source of state-focused journalism. Founded and run by former print journalists, they provide excellent in-depth coverage of our state. They are funded using a model similar to that of public television – a combination of grants and individual donor support.

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