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Jan. 17, 2020, 1:33 p.m.
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LINK: www.freepress.net  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   January 17, 2020

It took almost five years and the amount was winnowed down from a dreamy $100 million to just $2 million, but it’s finally happened: On Thursday, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy released the first $1 million in funds for the Civic Information Consortium, a nonprofit initiative that seeks to strengthen local news and civic participation across the state.

“The consortium has a lot of work to do to address the news-desert crisis in communities across the state, particularly in our rural areas and in communities of color,” Civic Information Consortium board member John Celock said in a statement. “The governor’s release of these funds is an important step for us to start our work.”

Last year, we spoke with Mike Rispoli, the director of the News Voices project at Free Press, the advocacy organization that led the effort to get the state of New Jersey to pony up for local news. The money came from a 2017 broadband spectrum auction that Free Press had initially envisioned could deliver as much as $100 million to local news initiatives in the state. Rispoli said at the time:

We think that this money that the consortium will grant out can absolutely be used for journalism, but also help get civic technology projects off the ground in certain communities, help some of the universities involved develop students journalists and create fellowships where they work with local newsrooms to cover communities that are no longer being covered by this outlet. We know that $2 million is not enough to solve the local news crisis in New Jersey but we do hope it will begin to invest in projects that will come up with different sustainability models or help support some of the emerging projects we’ve seen at the local level in a response to the demise of legacy media in New Jersey. This money can go to some of these really interesting emerging projects and give them more support as they figure things out.

I also think both the consortium and the campaign for the civic info bill will hopefully serve as a model for other states as they expand what they can be doing in response to the disappearance of local news. We’re seeing that happen in Massachusetts this week where there was a hearing on a bill to set up a commission for strengthening local news in underserved communities. We’re seeing the Colorado Media Project looking at possible public pathways to strengthen and support local news. We’re seeing at the federal level with bills recently introduced that could help create and support nonprofit media. We’re hopeful that no matter what the state of the consortium in New Jersey, that it will serve as an example for not only policies that can be passed to strengthen local news but that when you engage the public in these conversations that they will actually begin to organize and take action in support of policies that strengthen local news.

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