Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Free Press: New Jersey Introduces a Fund That Will Support Local Journalism

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Free Press: New Jersey Introduces a Fund That Will Support Local Journalism

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In my final year of college, which only seems to be the time slide rulers were invented, I edited the student newspaper at the University of New Mexico and learned a valuable lesson about separation of "church and state."

We sold advertising to raise about 90 percent of our budget for our free daily. The other 10 percent came from student fees that were allocated through the student government. My editorials had been unkind to the student senate and they took the opportunity at the budget hearings to remind me that they controlled a significant part of our budget and if our coverage didn't improve ...

Young and full of piss and vinegar, I told them what they could do with their 10 percent and only a late save by our production director allowed us to keep it. But I learned first-hand why separating the fourth estate was truly important. It's all about the money.

As journalism continues in treacherous water, there's an attempt in New Jersey to accept a life preserver from the state legislature. It is an innovative idea but I might tread water a little longer.

After New Jersey sold its public television licenses for $332 million, the Senate and Assembly majority leaders proposed establishing a fund that would pay for journalistic initiatives and civic information programs through partnerships with state universities. The state would put $20 million a year for five years into the fund.

The Free Press Action Fund supports the bill believing it would add local news and increase citizens interacting with their government. Local newspapers could compete for these funds (so could tech companies and citizens groups) to support ideas that embellish local citizens' knowledge of their government and community.

There is a lot to like about the intent of this idea. It has the potential to strengthen reporting in small communities that have been hurt by the loss of reporting staffs. It is one thing for a large newspaper to cut back staff from 900 to 800. It is quite another for a small newspaper to trim its reporters from 14 to 7. How many statehouses are now covered by a handful of reporters?

Corruption in local government flourishes without watchdogs. Citizens do not engage with local school boards or water districts when no one reports on their actions. …

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