New Jersey’s voice at NJN needs to be saved

Dudley is a Senior Staff Representative for CWA Local 1032. – promoted by Rosi

Cross posted from the Daily Record

In his March budget address, Gov. Chris Christie reasonably questioned why the state needs its own television network.

There is a clear and direct answer to our governor’s question … a state operated network, now called New Jersey Network or NJN … was the only way to ensure broadcast coverage of New Jersey news, information, public affairs and culture.

After two decades of fruitless attempts by legislators and public leaders to get New York and Philadelphia broadcasters (11 of whom are formally licensed in New Jersey towns and cities) to seriously cover New Jersey, the Hughes Commission recommended and the Legislature established New Jersey public broadcasting radio and television, which began operations in 1971.

Now 40 years later, NYC and Philly continue their absolute domination of the New Jersey media/broadcast with two important changes in those years. First, NJN has become a unifying factor for a notoriously fragmented state. As the voice of New Jersey, NJN is the place to tune in to get information about elections, critical legislative and gubernatorial initiatives, and to get relevant and immediate information during times of crises like 9/11.

The other big change has been the drastic reduction of other sources of New Jersey information. Though commercial broadcasters, aside from 101.5 FM, have never been a major source of information about New Jersey, recently that industry has cut the resources devoted to news, raising the prospect of cuts in their current thoroughly inadequate New Jersey coverage. But the decline of New Jersey newspapers has been even more dramatic with the future only seeming to hold further cuts.

According to the American Journalism Review in 2009, reporters covering New Jersey state government fell from 35 to 15 in five years time … and the trend only continues down.

Many important public developments no longer get covered, only increasing opportunities for corruption in a state renown for its corruption.

In short, the New Jersey coverage NJN provides is needed now more than ever.

During this time of crisis for New Jersey news, the administration has proposed ending all state funding to NJN. State funding currently covers about 40 percent of NJN’s expenses with the majority of funding coming from commercial arrangements, private support and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The administration has also called for giving NJN to a private group to operate and perhaps selling a few assets.

Without modification, the administration plan would cripple NJN and leave it as a shell of its current self. Providing quality news coverage requires people – reporters, anchors, camerapeople and editors – and that costs money. In the short term without state support NJN can’t provide comprehensive news and public affairs. Ending state support also sends a negative message to private contributors about NJN’s future. There is a preferable approach – develop a more autonomous NJN that operates as an effective public/private partnership – a public media corporation.

Such a corporation would allow New Jersey taxpayers to continue to own NJN’s broadcast licenses, which is the only way to ensure that NJN remains focused on New Jersey news, information, public affairs and culture. It also would allow NJN to hire staff more easily, procure broadcast equipment without unnecessary red tape, make better deals to lease assets like its towers and broadcast spectrum and raise private money more effectively.

The final analysis? New Jersey needs NJN as its voice. For more info from CWA/NJN staff about the future of NJN – click.


Comments (7)

  1. Kerr Lockhart

    WNYC went from 100% funded by NYC to completely independent, using money from sales of spectrum as seed money.

    I think your proposal is very good–provided NJN gets better distribution.  As it is, it is very difficult to get without cable, which leaves out much of the low-income population.

    By the way, what happened to requiring WWOR to make New Jersey its base and report New Jersey news?

  2. 12mileseastofTrenton

    None of that, if it bleeds it leads garbage, no hyped up sensationalism.  The state needs to continue to fund it.

  3. robosz

    While an open-ended discussion of possible models of operation for both NJN Tv and Radio (now Public Media) is healthy, please consider this time and place: any sale or transfer of these State-owned assets now will be guided — if not completely controlled — by the Gov. and Legis, with Gov holding purse strings.  Despite the Governor’s statement that he wants to “get out of the TV business”, his office is currently attempting to secure through legis. the power to dictate who gets the NJN assets/licenses, either through sale or transfer.   The new owner(s) of NJN could have a media organization and control it for the next 50 yrs if they play it right.  Do you think that the Gov. will allow a progressive, NPR-style, PBS-style powerhouse to arise?  Do you believe the administration will tolerate any “public service-minded” media group to take this asset and run with it?  Already the legislation proposed to sell/transfer NJN on behalf of the Gov. gives all the power to sell/transfer to the Treasurer alone, and suggests the Gov. have the the power to choose half of the Board of any newly-created NJN private non-profit.  How independent will that new group be?  How will a new buyer be vetted — by the Legis, or just by the Treasurer and the Gov’s inner office?  Many of the apt discussions regarding a “free and independent” private media sort of fall away when you recognize that a State giveaway of NJN, right now, has a slim chance of resulting in a progressive PBS-style media powerhouse.  I’m a staffer at NJN, and I’d love to be proved wrong on this, but I don’t see it happening with the Gov. influence right now.  And the decision to sell/transfer is irrevocable.

    Please consider these realities as the NJN decisions are weeks away, not months or years.  


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