Legislation to invest $100 million in local news to be discussed in Education Building forum

By Connor Smith and Brielle Bryan
Editor-in-Chief and Opinions Editor

A forum to discuss a bill that could help offset the decline of New Jersey’s local news media will take place in Education Building Room 212 on Thursday, Dec. 7.

The forum, coordinated by the Free Press Action Fund, will discuss legislation that was introduced by leaders of the state assembly and senate earlier in the year to invest as much as $100 million over five years to support local news and information projects. The money would come from the $332 million the state earned from the sale of two public-broadcasting licenses for WNJN and WNJT, according to a press release from the Free Press Action Fund.

The legislation would establish the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium to administer funds and provide grants for community-information projects, according to the release.

Representatives from New Jersey colleges and universities, as well as stakeholders from community groups and media outlets, would act as the board members of the consortium, which would serve as a non-profit, according to the release.

“Valuable legacy operations have endured major cutbacks, and some are on the verge of collapse,” the Free Press Action Fund said in a statement. “It’s also a moment when some promising local experiments might crash or soar. In either context, investments from the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium … could be the difference between success and failure.”

The North Jersey Media Group, which publishes The Record, the Herald News and other weekly New Jersey newspapers, announced significant layoffs and sent notices to 141 employees last January, according to an NJ.com report.

The Star-Ledger and the Times of Trenton, both published by Advance Publications, have also undergone significant layoffs since 2007, according to a New York Times report from this past January.

While major cuts have been a national trend in media, New Jersey has suffered especially due to the media’s role in uncovering corruption and keeping powerful institutions accountable, according The New York Times report.

“If Bridgegate happened today, would someone have covered it?” said Richard A. Lee, an associate professor at St. Bonaventure University, according to The New York Times. “Because it was really a local reporter doing old-fashioned investigative reporting.”

The forum will discuss the organizer’s efforts to get the bill passed, as well as how New Jersey residents can get involved. Registration will start at 6:30 p.m., followed by the forum from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.