Over the last 15 years, dozens of local news outlets across New Jersey have shut their doors. The impact on local reporting has been felt especially hard in Essex County, where I live. There is a palpable absence when it comes to the kind of news and information people in my community need to make decisions about voting, get involved in local government, find new economic and educational opportunities, and support their children in local schools.
But there’s still hope.
Earlier this year, New Jersey finalized the sale of two of its old public-media stations. As a result the state is set to receive $332 million from the federal government. Several forward-thinking elected representatives in Trenton introduced legislation (the “Civic Information Bill,” A4933/S3303) that would use a portion of this money to help fix the state’s local news crisis.
The bill calls for funding of the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, which would unite journalists, higher-education institutions, community groups and residents in efforts to strengthen local news and civic technology across New Jersey.
But other lawmakers are looking to spend this money to patch holes in the state’s ailing budget. That would be a mistake. Our legislators should use this money to fulfill the original obligation of these public stations, which were created to serve the information needs of the people of New Jersey.
It’s only right that these funds be used to support the Civic Information Consortium’s efforts to amplify local voices and better inform communities, like those in Essex County and others across the state. All of New Jersey should support the Civic Information Bill.
Victor Anthony Barnes
42 Park Avenue
Bloomfield, NJ 07003