NJTV – Not as Crappy as I Thought

I was a big fan of NJN, the state-funded television and news network that Governor Christie gave to his cronies last June. So, like others, I held the station’s new incarnation, NJTV, to the same high standards that its predecessor followed.

What I liked about NJN, and what I expected from NJTV was:

1. Balanced reporting

2. In depth (live) coverage of important legislative proceedings

3. Professional-quality television

I was disappointed on all three fronts.  

First, the giveaway was apparently done with no transition plan. Over the past summer, NJTV continually promoted its “new and improved” services while operating with bare bones staff and equipment. Give it credit for hiring Michael Aron, the elder broadcast statesman from NJN, even though I believe Aron leans rightward more often than straight ahead.  NJTV’s state house coverage was, and still is, pitiful. Its presence at legislative hearings is noticeable by its absence, whereas NJN’s cameras used to be ubiquitous throughout the committee rooms. While NJTV covered Governor Christie’s state-of-the state in its entirety, it was not until it was cajoled by Blue Jersey that the staff even considered showing the Democratic response. And it turned out the broadcast broke away from that response before it was completed1 .

So while NJTV covers Chris Christie’s cacophonies, I was curious to see how it would handle one of the Democrats’ top priority initiatives, civil rights.

Last Thursday, the Democratic-dominated Assembly Judiciary Committee held seven hours of hearings on marriage equality. I was there both as a supporter and to record the proceedings because I knew NJTV would not. One would think that the state’s network would cover this high-priority Democratic initiative with as much depth as it does the Governor’s antics. So I decided to verify this by recording that evening’s NJTV newscast for later analysis.

Before the start of the hearings, I saw Michael Aron doing an in-depth interview with freshman Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi. I was happy to see NJTV devoting its star reporter to marriage equality, and even though Schepisi is a Republican, I figured that the report would give equal time to both sides. But my assumption about the scope of that interview was way off base.

That evening’s half-hour newscast contained 21 minutes and 31 seconds of reporting. Of that, only 1 minute, 54 seconds was devoted to the Democrats’ prime topic, marriage equality. It turns out that the interview with Schepisi was not about the key civil rights issue of this generation, but rather it was  a 3 minute, 12 second piece about the fact that freshman legislators like Schepisi do not qualify to receive taxpayer-funded medical benefits (because their work in the legislature is considered part-time employment). So legislators’ benefits got 37% more air time than civil rights.

The short segment on marriage equality was also underdone. Even though the NJTV crew was in the committee room, there were no interviews with advocates from either side. Instead, the less-than-two-minute segment was a Skype-quality video of a reporter describing the proceedings at a superficial level.

Not all is bad, though. My (admittedly biased) impression was that NJTV spends more time with the right than with the left. And although on this particular broadcast marriage equality got short shrift, the rest of the broadcast was even-handed. In addition to Schepisi, NJTV also gave air time to Assemblyman Sean Kean. But the left was not left out. NJTV did an in-depth interview with Deborah Jacobs of the ACLU and with the chairman of the Budget Committee, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto. So based on this sample size of one broadcast, I’ll say that the reporting is becoming more balanced.

Still, the coverage of the legislature needs to be improved. The legislature streams audio of most proceedings. It’s often difficult listening to the stream to determine who is talking. And without seeing body language and gestures, the listener is only getting half the message. The New Jersey Supreme Court is marginally better, streaming postage-stamp size videos and archiving them for future reference.

What is needed is a C-SPAN-like service for the legislature. Every committee and every session should be streamed, and the most important proceedings should pre-empt NJTV’s cartoons and be broadcast live. The legislators should promote transparency and involvement by making their work more accessible, and NJTV should have a big part in that initiative. NJTV is getting better – going from a grade of F in June to a grade of D today. Since the taxpayer still funds a good portion of NJTV, the legislature should ensure that NJTV lives up to its viewers’ expectations.

1 I don’t fault them from cutting away in this case. The Democratic response was disjointed and consisted of repetitive rhetoric from the leadership instead of a single coordinated comprehensive rebuttal.

NJN Signoff – Jim Hooker and Michael Aron

Comments (10)

  1. Babs NJSD

    I will be the first to state this opinion is only based on my unscientific random viewing of watching him or the bevy of people interviewed giving opinions.

  2. Senator Loretta Weinberg

    Mike Schneider at their Montclair studio tomorrow (Tuesday). I’ve been disappointed about their lack of “field reporting” and coverage of the legislature and its committees in session.  Glad the balance is more even.

  3. sandy23

    I was watching NJTV over the weekend and thinking, maybe I was wrong.  In fact I find the programing much better, production quality better and now that Michael Aron is coming back with Reporters Roundtable and On the Record,  I am basically pleased with the change/

  4. ken bank

    High priority for who? A handful of bloggers and progressive activists? A very small percentage of the population which has any direct stake in the outcome? And please, spare us the comparisons to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Streve Goldstein does a great job, but he’s not Martin Luther King, or even Jesse Jackson. It seems to me some of the people on this blog need a reality check. 95% of the voters in this state don’t give a rats rear end whether ME passes or not. It is not a “high priority” for the people out of work, losing their homes, losing their benefits, and there are alot more of them than there are same sex couples who want to get married.

    NJTV, like any other medium, has to be responsive to their entire audience, not just a few political junkies and activists. I’ll bet there are a hundred times as many people who would rather see NJTV provide live coverage of the Giants Superbowl rally, than provide coverage of hearings on ME. And if you look at any issues poll, you’ll probably find ME at the bottom of the list, along with fluoridation of the water supply and Obama’s birth certificate.

    Having said all this, I really do hope ME passes and is signed by the Governor. It’s the right thing to do. But for me, and I believe for the other 98% of New Jersey voters, it is not a “high priority”, and aside from a few bloggers, activists, and same sex couples I doubt anybody will be losing sleep if it doesn’t pass.

  5. robosz

    I have no doubt that the folks doing the news show at NJTV want to do real journalistic justice and provide information in New Jersey’s unique media landscape.  The people at NJN News were attempting to do the same, I believe. [I worked there as a doc producer, but wasn’t part of the News unit.]  In fact, even in recent on-air promotions, NJTV talents have used the phrase “free and independent” to describe the new NJTV.  I think the Gov. most likely used that phrase too, hinting that NJN News wasn’t independent in the past, but NJTV will be, for sure.

    While NJTV is no longer state-operated, it is still state-owned.  Is everyone aware that the State Treasurer is the Chairman of the Public Broadcasting Board?  And that the Board that oversees the future of the station’s growth or direction was pretty much put together by the current Governor’s administration?

    I don’t believe the old news content was controlled by Corzine, or McGreevey, or Whitman, … on and on.  I don’t believe the current news content is being “controlled” by Christie.  But one can’t deny that the new organization still has to answer to the Gov’s office, whereas NJN used to have to answer to every Gov, every  Legislature, and the citizens … because taxpayers were helping to pay the bill.

    What will gubernatorial campaign coverage be like in 2013? Will there be another story like Zack Fink’s “Christie loan to Michelle Brown” story which he broke during the 2009 campaign?, … do you think?  Well, maybe against a challenger …

    What if there’s a jarring scandal brewing involving the Gov, the Treasurer, or a party boss who might have significant ties to the new station?   THAT will be the true test of the independence of the new News show … when there comes along a story that has the potential to look like an “attack” on the current administration.  NJN News was critiqued for not doing “exposes” or attack news … then, when it did, it got killed for doing so, as all the Repubs claimed the station had become too Dem-friendly.  [Especially after the Zack Fink story.] Maybe NJN News should have stayed muted and informational, only.  

    I think the new NJTV will do their best to be as fair as possible … but don’t kid yourself that they work within a new, free and independent media production environment.  If a non-political bi-partisan group of media specialists had created the new NJTV, and created a new non-politicallly-connected oversight group, I’d be more convinced that the new personnel have been given true journalistic freedom.

    Lastly, no one has said what happens to this Board if Chris Christie loses in 2013; if it means a party change-over of people overseeing NJTV, then you are back at square one with the same problem that handcuffed NJN for years … political pals overseeing media professionals.

  6. gary stein

    one comment above for fear of my own comment being downrated or whatever you call it… IT”S TRUE.  

    that fellow above… whoever he is, hahaha,  makes a lot of excellent points …. nice job fella…plus he has the advantage of being a better COMMUNICATOR (so i’ve heard) than me.   that said, njntv as it was replayed on nj npr radio was painful to listen to (for me) even with the excellent michael aaron.  

    my real complaint is with the cancelled npr radio outlets in s.jersey being bought by philly’s npr.  i DON”T like marty moscowain nearly as much as diane rehm and and kai risdayll is on at different time now and not convenient anymore.  that’s my 2 cents worth and definitely looking in on this diary because deciminyan is a good guy.  


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