A project of Democracy Fund
The Local News Lab has been archived as of March 1, 2023. This page will remain online but will not be updated. More info.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, Democracy Fund supports the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund and the Center for Cooperative Media as a hub organization in the state’s local news ecosystem.

Based at Montclair State University and led by Stefanie Murray, the Center for Cooperative Media supports outlets in New Jersey and nationwide through trainings, coordination of collaborative efforts, media research, and the annual Collaborative Journalism Summit. The mission of the Center for Cooperative Media is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. Read more about the center’s work and team at its website.

The New Jersey Local News Lab Fund is a collaborative fund that supports people and organizations working towards building a more connected, collaborative and sustainable local news and information ecosystem in New Jersey.

The Fund is locally led and managed by an advisory group of local stakeholders,  the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Democracy Fund. It is housed at the Community Foundation of New Jersey.

It builds on eight years of work and local and national funding partnership to support independent journalism, reporting collaborations, new business models for news and experiments in community and civic engagement. 

In its third year, the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund is focusing its resources to support people of color media organizations and nonprofit organizations whose work tells untold stories and shapes new narratives through a racial lens to bring voice and visibility to communities of color.

We invite other funders and donors to join the effort so that New Jersey’s media ecosystem is more reflective of and invested in people of color and all people will benefit from having access to news and information informed by the diversity of our state.

What the Fund Supports

Grantees of the NJ Local News Fund include:

2020 Grants:

  • Free Press — $185,000 over two years to collaborate with key partners to find and fill information gaps and to promote community-driven storytelling in Atlantic City, Camden, and Newark with the Center for Cooperative Media and Outlier Media in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
  • Outlier Media — $36,000 for information needs assessments and accountability reporting in Atlantic City, Camden, and Newark in collaboration with Free Press and the Center for Cooperative Media in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

2019 Grants:

  • Center for Cooperative Media — $200,000 in general operating support to support collaboration, business model development, diversity, and research in the New Jersey local news ecosystem. 
  • Chalkbeat Newark — $75,000 in project support for coverage of K-12 education in Newark through local, investigative reporting that champions collaboration and engagement, focusing especially on efforts to improve schools for all children. 
  • Community Info Districts — $25,000 in general operating support for the Bloomfield Community Information Project, an assessment of the city’s information ecosystem to map assets and design community-driven approaches to identified needs.  
  • Free Press — $25,000 in project support for strategic support related to the Civic Information Consortium and a public education and engagement campaign to secure long-term funding for community news and information in New Jersey. 
  • Movement Alliance Project (formerly Media Mobilizing Project) — $50,000 in project support for Stories from New Jersey’s Criminal Justice Reform, a community-based storytelling project that engages New Jersey communities of color in conversations about mass incarceration, bail reform, safety, and justice. 
  • Stories of Atlantic City (Stockton University) — $50,000 in project support for Stories of Atlantic City, a collaborative effort between community organizations and local journalists focused on telling restorative, untold stories about the city and its people. 
  • Sustainable Jersey — $75,000 in project support for the Public Information and Engagement initiative, aimed at making governments more transparent and equipping officials with the technology and expertise to engage the public with a focus on advanced technical assistance and direct local support to municipalities.  
  • WBGO — $150,000 in project support for the News Voices engagement project in partnership with Free Press through a community organizer who represents the needs and voices of the community in the newsroom, and builds on and adds value to the news outlet’s existing work to inform, engage, and illuminate. 

2018 Grants

  • Black Public Media – $30,000 to host a Black Story Summit in New Jersey bringing together social justice leaders, media makers, funders, and others to connect and catalyze relationships between stakeholders, create a space for learning, connection, and exchange, and seed content and support for local and regional makers.
  • Center for Cooperative Media – $100,000 to continue to provide training and business model development, support expanded collaborative reporting projects, local news research (including mapping ethnic news media in the state and local news research). This grant also includes support for the second year of a Local-National reporting program to facilitate connections for news organizations to source, localize, and publish stories that begin at a national or statewide level; and a scholarship fund to help New Jersey journalists attend events by organizations that work to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in media.
  • Chalkbeat Newark – $75,000 to sustain coverage of K-12 education in Newark through local, investigative reporting that champions collaboration and engagement, focusing especially on efforts to improve schools for all children.
  • Media Mobilizing Project – $100,000 for a project telling the stories of residents’ relationship to safety and justice in regards to New Jersey’s recent bail reform through videos, a website and open database, a workshop toolkit, and a series of public events centered around key themes relating to criminal justice reform.
  • Participatory Budgeting Project – $30,000 to build the capacity of key partners in New Jersey as a way to expand civic participation, enhance government transparency, and share power in communities and institutions with those most affected and least often engaged.

Why Supporting Local News Matters in New Jersey

New Jersey is sandwiched between two vibrant local news ecosystems, but residents of the state often can’t find news and information that’s relevant to their own neighborhood. The lack of local news has been shown to negatively impact voter turnout, civic engagement, government accountability, and political polarization. A coalition came together to respond to this crisis, as described by Democracy Fund’s Josh Stearns: 

In 2016, Gannett, one of America’s largest newspaper chains, bought the North Jersey Media Group, including The Record, the second largest daily newspaper in New Jersey, and cut staff in half, laying off 426 people. Months later, they announced another 141 job cuts. This is happening all over the country: out-of-state corporations come in and strip local newsrooms for parts. Between 2008 and 2018, newspapers in America lost nearly 50 percent of their newsroom employees, leaving 1,300 communities with no real source of local news. And it isn’t just newspapers—when you turn on the TV in New Jersey, it’s almost impossible to find local stories because nearly every station is based over the border in New York City or Philadelphia…

Since 2010, local and national foundations had been collaborating on efforts to build a more connected and collaborative media ecosystem. Working with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, newsrooms in the state began investing in community outreach and engagement to rebuild the social contract between newsrooms and communities. They held community forums, brought the public into the journalism process, and developed partnerships that helped realign priorities and reimagine reporting.

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