Free Press Action Fund: Civic Information Bill

Type of Activity: Advocacy Grant
Grantee: Free Press Action Fund
Grants Total: Three grants of up to $560,000 in 2016-2018 

What is the Civic Information Bill?

In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission began its “incentive auction.” This brought about significant reorganization of the public airwaves, and some broadcasters sold their channels and received a portion of the proceeds from the national sale of spectrum to wireless companies. Across the country, state and local governments, along with public and private universities, held non-commercial television licenses that were included in the auction.

The FCC’s Broadcast spectrum incentive auction generated significant funds for the public broadcasting stations. In New Jersey those funds went to the state, which held the broadcast licenses. The Civic Information Bill argues that a portion of the proceeds from these public airwaves should support public interest media.

Why do we think the Civic Information Bill is a good idea?

Free Press Action Fund works to develop and realize creative policy solutions to ensure that all Americans can connect and communicate. This grant supports their work to advocate for the creation of a new civic information consortium in New Jersey which could expand access to news and information for the state’s residents.

We believe that if a portion of the the income generated from the spectrum auction is redistributed with a focus on journalism in the public interest, then it could create a powerful new source of revenue for local news and serve as a model for other places.

How is Democracy Fund Voice supporting the Civic Information Bill?

Democracy Fund Voice approved two grants totaling $510,000 during 2016 and 2017, and a grant of up to $50,000 in 2018 to the Free Press Action Fund to lead a campaign that will work to ensure some of the funds raised from the incentive auction go towards sustaining local journalism. In the summer of 2018 Free Press Action Fund was successful in getting the Civic Information Bill passed with broad bipartisan support, securing $5 million for civic information and local community news in New Jersey.

Tow Center Terrorism and Media White Papers

Type of Activity: Project Grant
Grantee: The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
Amount: Up to $150,000 in 2016-2017

What is the Tow Center?

The Tow Center operates as an institute within Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. It is poised to take advantage of a unique combination of factors to foster the development of digital journalism. This grant will explore the relationship between terrorism, policy, and all media.

Why do we think this project is a good idea?

We believe that the emerging dynamics of a media system which fosters real time coverage and responses are largely unexplored and are increasingly influential. This project will generate papers reporting on emerging practices and their relationship to the current elections cycle, and convene media industry decision-makers to discuss the findings. This aims to inform  pre-election discussion regarding reporting trends, and the effects of social media on the racist and/or Islamphobic rhetoric that has become prevalent.

How is Voice supporting the project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant to The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York in the amount of up to $150,000 to support the Tow Center within Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2016-2017.

Public Spectrum Project

Type of Activity: Advocacy Grant
Grantee: Free Press Action Fund
Amount: Up to $60,000 in 2016

What is the Public Spectrum Project?

In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission will begin its “incentive auction.” This is likely to bring about significant reorganization of the public airwaves, in which some broadcasters will sell their channels and receive a portion of the proceeds from the national sale of spectrum to wireless companies. Across the country, state and local governments, along with public and private universities, hold non-commercial television licenses likely to be included in the auction.

The Public Spectrum Project will explore the possibility of an advocacy campaign that aims to see revenues from the sale of non-commercial TV licenses invested to sustain local journalism and community information needs. The Free Press Action Fund will research and analyze the stations likely to be sold, identify communities most negatively impacted, develop a campaign proposal, and test the idea with stakeholders and the public.

Why do we think the Public Spectrum Project is a good idea?

The public square is a place where discussions about local civic news and information gathering occurs which we consider to be essential to a vibrant democracy. As news and information providers shift to new media practices, such as digital and cable news, we believe that the American people must have effective ways to gather information.

Our hypothesis is that funds realized in the incentive auction may be very substantial. If a small percentage can be directed back to revitalizing the public square or to new resources for local news and information, then the resulting positive impact on information challenged communities could be considerable.

How is Voice supporting the Public Spectrum Project?

Democracy Fund Voice approved a grant of up to $60,000 in 2016 to the Free Press Action Fund to test the viability of a campaign that will work to ensure some of the funds raised from the incentive auction go towards sustaining local journalism.