The State of New Jersey is poised to spend $5 million to sustain local journalism. Last month, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature passed the “Civic Info Bill.”
The bill sets up and funds a nonprofit group called the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium (NJCIC) that will be supported by five of the state’s universities. A board of directors will approve grants to strengthen local news coverage. New Jersey has reportedly seen a decline in local news reporting, and the NJCIC seeks to focus on underserved communities.
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy signed a state budget on Sunday night that allocates $5 million for the nonprofit.
While it may appear to be a noble cause — the proposal for the Consortium claims it “could help bolster public-interest journalism, civic information, and media innovation” — government money should never come close to the media.
Having the government support local journalism takes away journalistic independence and prevents journalists from holding the media accountable, as they are meant to do.
The government does not need journalists to simply relay information; it has its own publicity crew to do just that. Rather, the media-politician relationship ought to be an adversarial one, one where the media constantly questions policies and conducts its own investigation after skeptically receiving word from the government.
In effect, the government is taking initiative to maintain journalism, whose very role is to serve as the watchdog against the government. Does anybody else see something inherently wrong with this?
The two institutions — government and the media — must remain separate at all costs, even it means bankruptcy for local journalists.
If a journalist writes a piece with which nobody takes issue — they call that field public relations. The field of journalism is meant not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable.
The death of the independent press would make the government all too comfortable, and it would take away the power of journalists to afflict it as their job demands.