Government

How to Strengthen Local Journalism? New Brunswick Offers Ideas

8b3b9b16e3048a2d826b_free_press_forum_2.jpg
Chris Satullo, a veteran journalist who works with the media advocacy group Free Press, speaks during a May 30 forum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Hire a state transparency officer to help people request public records. Empower marginalized communities to tell their stories. Build a university research program that solicits advice from—and works with—your average Joe.

These ideas most energized the crowd at a News Voices: New Jersey forum held by the media advocacy group Free Press on May 30 at Rutgers University’s school of communications, off College Avenue and Huntington Street in New Brunswick.

Roughly two dozen journalists, academics, librarians, public relations professionals and activists attended the gathering, where they broke into two groups and brainstormed how to improve local news in the Garden State. Proposals centered on both the business and reporting ends of the industry, and targeted independent blogs, hyperlocal news sites like TAPinto and the state’s largest newspapers.

Sign Up for E-News

But this crowdsourced wish list wasn’t an exercise in fantasy.

“Only in New Jersey do we have the opportunity to dream the dreams you’re going to dream tonight,” Chris Satullo, a Philadelphia journalism veteran who works with Free Press, told the audience.

Why? Because New Jersey was the only state to recently auction off two media licenses, one for a TV station in Montclair and the other in Trenton, which will be used to increase broadband access. The sales brought in $332 million, according to Free Press.

Where that money will ultimately go is unclear. Media advocates said they worry it will vanish come the end of the month, used to plug holes in the state’s notoriously porous budget.

But Free Press, state universities and various activists are pushing lawmakers to set aside $100 million to create the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium. The entity—a coalition of public colleges, including Rutgers—would oversee a fund designed to boost community journalism, media studies and civic engagement, advocates said.

Several state lawmakers planned to propose a bill this week to make that vision a reality, Free Press staffers said. Whether the consortium finds life will be decided before the adoption of the state budget, they said.

Free Press and its partners hope for the journalism fund to serve many projects, communities and generations of New Jersey residents.

“This could run for decades to come,” Mike Rispoli, who leads News Voices: New Jersey, said. “This would mean that New Jersey would be a leader in an innovative, forward-thinking media landscape.”

Media thinkers and residents opened the forum by discussing what they broadly want from local media. Some urged for stronger coverage of the state’s 21 counties, while others said they wanted more in-depth reporting.

Crime reporting—good for attracting clicks but less important than municipal coverage—had become too prevalent, they said. And journalism in New Jersey had grown timid and overcrowded, they added.

Satullo, who for years worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer, noted Jersey’s “long history as a stepchild” of news outlets based in Philly and New York City. He said those publications and stations merely “pretend” to cover the state.

So how could the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium change that?

Free Press kicked off the problem-solving session with a few ideas: Build a smartphone app and a reporting team to cover the long-term impact of state laws. Create an “AmeriCorps for journalists,” which would send young muckrakers to cover media deserts under the guidance of seasoned mentors. Establish a “Right to Know” institute that would arm people with the resources and knowledge to access public information.

As the evening went on, attendees posed and debated their own plans. Among the proposals were media literacy programs for news consumers, training for citizen journalists and funding for documentary films.

Participants then voted on which ones they preferred most. But whether any options gain traction depends on the birth of the public information consortium.

Its backers argued that the civic information fund’s benefits will extend beyond the news and into much of public life.

“Unfortunately, it is the common good and the public that are so profoundly under attack by economic, political and technical forces—forces that are seemingly beyond the control of our communities and the individuals that make those communities, forces that undermine diversity and drive inequality,” Mark Aakhus, associate dean of research and a communications professor at Rutgers, said. “And this initiative is one important opportunity to rediscover and invent common goods that push back against such forces.”

Free Press plans to hold a rally in Trenton in the next week or so. For more information, check out its website.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

New Brunswick

The Jaffe Briefing - January 12, 2018

OUR TAKE ON THE NEWS IN NEW JERSEY

YOUR BACKYARD - If we don't kill our bears, their children and grandchildren will be living in your backyard. That is one way to summarize a 12-page report from state wildlife officials, claiming that Gov.-elect Phil Murphy's plan to stop the bear hunts could cause their population to double by 2022, NJ.com reports. Murphy wants to ...

The Jaffe Briefing - January 11, 2018

OUR TAKE ON THE NEWS IN NEW JERSEY

UP THE CREEK - New Jersey has a weaker tax base, higher taxes and simmering fury amongst taxpayers. It is a recipe for financial trouble, reports The Wall Street Journal, noting it has been more than 20 years since New Jersey was current on its pension payments, leaving the state nearly $100 billion in the hole. And while ...

The Jaffe Briefing - January 10, 2018

OUR TAKE ON THE NEWS IN NEW JERSEY

TRENTON - Gov. Chris Christie talked for more than two hours yesterday, in his farewell "State of the State" address, highlighting all of his accomplishments. He served eight years (well, minus the two years he ran for President) and has done so much that we must recognize and appreciate. So, without further ado, free of slant or snark, here is ...

The Jaffe Briefing - January 9, 2018

OUR TAKE ON THE NEWS IN NEW JERSEY

TRENTON - With the end of this session of the New Jersey Legislature, there were plenty of bills flying everywhere yesterday, furiously voted on and moved from desk to desk and chamber to chamber. When the dust settled yesterday, and exhausted lawmakers ran out of things on which to vote, here's some stuff heading on to the lame-duck governor's ...

The Jaffe Briefing - January 8, 2018

OUR TAKE ON THE NEWS IN NEW JERSEY

NORTH JERSEY - There's lots of brain power at work to sidestep the new federal tax law that limits property tax deductions. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is talking about lawsuits and eliminating the state income tax, replacing it with a payroll tax. In California, they want to set up a charity, allowing taxpayers to make "donations," ...

The Jaffe Briefing - January 5, 2018

OUR TAKE ON THE NEWS IN NEW JERSEY

STATEWIDE - There's a lot that will be said about Gov. Brendan T. Byrne this morning, as the state learns that one of its beloved politicians has died at age 93. There was no one who could master a one-liner better than the former governor, and everyone has a story. We recall, quite fuzzily, when Byrne attended an event in Woodbridge in the ...

Burger Business Turns ​Off the Grill at The Yard

January 16, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Another business at The Yard@College Avenue, Bella’s Burger Shack, is now closed, and unlike the neighboring Starbucks, it​ has apparently​ left for good.

A sign had been posted on the front door of the restaurant, reading that Dec. 22, 2017 w​as the last day the shack would be in business.

Bella’s Burger Shack, which has its other location in ...

Rutgers Men's Basketball Coach Approved for $8M Raise, 3 Year Contract Extension

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University officials have signed off on a three-year extension for head men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell, now set to run through the 2023-2024 season.

The move came at a specially-called Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 10.

Pikiell’s initial contract was signed in March 2016 and set to run five years, of which he’d be ...

Former Rutgers Football Player Pleads Guilty in 2015 Home Invasions

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A former Rutgers University varsity football player admitted his role in a series of armed robberies and home invasions, authorities announced on Jan. 8.

Tejay Johnson, 26, of Egg Harbor, will spend 15 years behind bars as part of a plea agreement, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said in a statement.

He ple​ade​d guilty to an array of robbery and burglary ...

OPINION

Letter to the Editor: Proposed Medicaid Cuts Threaten Families

January 5, 2018

Medicaid – the safety next for millions of Americans – continues to be under attack.

Whether debating healthcare legislation, tax reform or deficit reduction, lawmakers see Medicaid as some magic source of ready-made cost savings. Many don’t seem to understand how intertwined Medicaid is within society; a lifeline for so many families – like mine.

I am the parent of ...

Hopewell Entrepreneur Back in Full Swing After Minimally Invasive Heart Procedure

January 12, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Some people dream about retirement. Not David Bregenzer. At 85 years old, this Hopewell, New Jersey resident still loves running the local oil company he founded in 1970. In fact, you’ll typically find him at the office six or seven days a week – unless, of course, he’s at his favorite golf club, working on his swing. Aside from family, those interests ...

Get Off the Couch. Walk the Dog. Live Longer.

January 15, 2018

“Sitting is the new smoking”. This is the new mantra in cardiology and global population health. Sitting, or a sedentary lifestyle, has long been known as a risk factor for the development of heart disease.

Excessive sitting is also associated with a higher mortality rate. Is sitting really as bad as smoking for your health? Why is sitting so detrimental? What strategies can combat ...