A Government Press Corps

New Jersey decides to subsidize journalists for local coverage.

 
 

Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a news conference in Trenton, N.J., June 30.
Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a news conference in Trenton, N.J., June 30. PHOTO: JULIO CORTEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS
 

The state of New Jersey may be broke, but its political class has found another worthy cause for tapped-out taxpayers to support: a government press corps. Yes, in the name of “community” reporting, the titans of Trenton want to subsidize the press.

Officially the effort is called the Civic Information Consortium, and last month the Democratic legislature passed and Governor Phil Murphy approved $5 million in funding. The consortium consists of five state universities—Rutgers University, Rowan University, the College of New Jersey, Montclair State University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Yes, Rutgers, which quivers at having conservative speakers, will be a free-press arbiter.

 
The consortium will use the money for grants supposedly to improve news coverage in communities deemed undeserved. The consortium will in turn be overseen by a 13-member board: two appointed by the Governor, two by the legislature, one by each university, and the other four drawn from community groups, media outlets and the technology industry.

The consortium is the brainchild of the Free Press Action Fund, a left-leaning organization whose other causes include pushing government regulation of the internet and fighting media mergers such as the one between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media. The Free Press didn’t get anywhere near the $100 million it had proposed for the consortium in April 2017. But Free Press spokesman Mike Rispoli applauds New Jersey for doing what no other state has done and urges others to follow Trenton’s lead. Don’t be surprised if Democrats propose federal subsidies for local news if they win back the House in November.

The lack of local reporting is a growing problem as regional and local newspapers go out of business or lay off reporters. Some local web startups have tried to fill the gap, but it’s not easy to find advertisers or get consumers to pay. Nonprofits might help, and in some places bloggers have done a commendable job. Other business models might emerge as technology and media change.

One certainty is that creating a government press corps isn’t the answer. State capitals are notoriously corrupt, Trenton in particular, but it’s doubtful that journalists whose grants ultimately depend on politicians will write hard-hitting stories embarrassing those politicians. Phil Murphy’s community press corps is likely to devolve into a cheerleading corps for Phil Murphy’s agenda.

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