FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 19, 1995
CONTACT: Kim Alexander
SAN JOSE MEDIA AND NON-PROFIT LAUNCH CIVIC JOURNALISM PROJECT
This weekend, the San Jose Mercury News, KNTV, and the California Voter Foundation launched Your Voices Count, a civic journalism project aimed at engaging the public in addressing the issue of special-interest control of the California Legislature.
Your Voices Count made its debut yesterday, with a front-page story in the Mercury News and the first report in a three-part news series on KNTV, San Jose's ABC affiliate. The project's web page http://www.sjmercury.com/voices/voices.htm, housed on the Mercury News' Internet server is also open for visits, along with a message board on America Online, located in the Mercury Center's "Current Affairs" folder.
Your Voices Count grew out of the San Jose Mercury News' "Legislature for Sale" series, published in January, 1995. The series documented the extraordinary influence campaign contributions, gift-giving and special-interest lobbying has on the Legislature. California, the series found, has few rules limiting special-interest influence, and allows more money to permeate its legislative process than any other state. The series included an invitation to contact the paper if readers wanted to become involved in addressing the issues raised in the series. About 200 readers responded, and from these a core group of 75 project participants was formed.
"This started out as traditional investigative journalism and now we're leveraging that traditional reporting in an untraditional way," said Jerry Ceppos, executive editor of the Mercury News. "It's really the way public journalism should work. We're combining good, aggressive investigative journalism with the somewhat new idea of helping citizens find their own answers to problems," Ceppos added. Ceppos also noted that the Mercury News' Capitol bureau is not affiliated with the project.
The project's 75 citizen participants - volunteers from the San Jose and Santa Cruz areas - are helping to organize a variety of events and activities such as:
Terry MacElhatton, KNTV's News Director, said he felt it was important that his station be involved in a project that will engage people in the political system again. "Too many people have turned off to politics," MacElhatton said. "Hopefully we can get people involved in what happens in Sacramento, because what goes on there affects everyone in the state."
- Public debates, events and town hall meetings that focus on campaign financing practices;
- A caravan to Sacramento that will give citizens a first-hand look at the Legislature's committee process;
- A world wide web page featuring tools that will help all Californians engage in legislative activities;
- A bill-tracking team of online citizens who will monitor and report on campaign finance reform and special interest legislation.
Your Voices Count is being funded by an $85,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a foundation that has financed several public journalism projects nationwide. "San Jose joins a lengthening list of cities around the country where citizens are getting off the sidelines and into the game," said Ed Fouhy, director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. "There is a real renaissance of civic engagement in cities from coast to coast. Journalists have played a key role by providing people with the information they need to move away from gridlock and toward solutions," Fouhy added.
The Pew grant will help finance the project's various public events and activities, and is paying the salary of a full-time project director, Kim Alexander, who also serves as executive director of the California Voter Foundation, a non-profit voter education organization based in Sacramento.
Alexander's role is to provide participants with the tools, resources, information and contacts they need to conduct project activities. "It's not enough to simply tell people that something is wrong in Sacramento," Alexander said. "People also need the tools to address these problems. New communication technologies - particularly the Internet - offer powerful resources that may help level the playing field between monied interests and citizens."
The project has been in development since March 1995, and will continue through February 1996. Participants have been working in large and small group meetings for the past two months, and have organized themselves into task forces addressing key issues: campaign finance, legislative accountability, increasing civic involvement, and structural/constitutional changes.
The public may contact the project via:
web page: http://www.sjmercury.com/voices/voices.htm
phone: 408-920-5993 fax: 916-737-6246.
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