Participatory Budgeting to Fund Local Journalism

When I was undocumented as a kid, I remember desperately waiting for US Citizenship and Immigration Services to simply look at my family’s case. The backlog was so ridiculously long it took 11 years for my mother and me to finally get our green cards. I consider myself one of the lucky ones: at least I had a path to citizenship. We lived in such a state of fear, my father asked me to be mindful of where I spoke Spanish. That was 10 years ago, and I can’t even imagine the fear that today’s immigrants feel.

So for me, and for anyone who understands the immigrant experience, how we treat immigrants is personal. It’s hard not to say “that could have been us” when two years ago we found out from the local press that our county government was profiteering from immigrant detainees by allowing ICE to use our county jail to continue separating immigrant families. It was local journalism that shone a light on a level of government to which we don’t usually pay attention, where feckless officials trade the pain of immigrants for money. It was the local press that reported your current Freeholder Anthony Romano’s excuse for his vote in favor of this immoral contract: “In the past, this money has been used to pay for infrastructure projects around the county.” This is only one example of why we need local media; why budgets should reflect our community’s morality; why we need people that will do the digging to find for us the stories of how people are affected by our local government.

There’s nothing more powerful than a story, and our local press has the creativity to tell our stories and how our county government impacts their daily lives. That’s why I’m proposing the creation of a Hudson County Local Media Fund, dedicating $2 million of the existing Hudson County budget to fund local journalism through a participatory budgeting process.

Participatory budgeting is a more transparent way to award public money. Local media companies would create their proposals/pilots together with residents, and the winners would be chosen through a public referendum. This way we make sure political bosses don’t have a say in what gets covered so the people decide which local media deserves funds.

COVID-19 has shown us that we need to revitalize our infrastructure. People shouldn’t be receiving their news from government Facebook pages. Local journalism is an essential public service that we allowed to wither in the last two decades. We can turn on the television or open up the New York Times and find out exactly what Gov. Cuomo or Mayor DeBlasio is doing, but try doing the same for Gov. Murphy or our mayors. We need to fund local journalists now more than ever. Let’s help the storytellers, the influencers, and the creative journalists to engage their audience and amplify the local priorities of the community where we live.

Ron Bautista

Candidate for Hudson County Freeholder, 5th District.

What is a County Freeholder?

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