How’s NJTV Doing?

NJTV, the only state-wide television network, rose out of the ashes of the highly-acclaimed state-funded New Jersey Network (NJN) in mid-2010. As a news junkie and amateur pundit, I’ve been a loyal watcher of NJTV’s 6 PM newscast.

Despite the fact that the level of funding for state-wide news has gone down significantly since the demise of NJN, I’m happy that the quality of the newscasts is getting better, albeit with much more room for improvement. Anchor Mike Schneider is an excellent interviewer and he usually presents a neutral tone on even the most contentious issues in Trenton. The extended interviews with New Jersey’s movers and shakers are something that no other outlet (except Blue Jersey) currently provides across the state. The network has invested in state-of-the-art equipment that enables it to report from remote sites over conventional telephone circuits, giving reporters the opportunity to go where the news happens. The major challenge that NJTV News faces is a small staff of reporters and technical people. With all that’s happening in the state, they can’t cover as much breaking news as they should.

Of course, the nightly newscast has to compete with other news outlets like the New York and Philadelphia commercial stations, the Internet, radio, and dead-tree newspapers. A recent poll conducted by Monmouth University reported that only 25% of the New Jerseyans they questioned had watched NJTV News in 2012, down from a high of 59% who had watched its predecessor, NJN, in 1999. But when Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray asked about the quality of the newscasts, the story was a bit different. “While there has been a significant drop in the visibility and brand identity of New Jersey’s public television outlet since the transfer to NJTV, the net impact on perceived quality has been negligible for most residents”, reported Murray.

The quality and quantity of the news reported on NJTV run rings around that of the commercial stations. Recently, researchers from Seton Hall University spent five weeks watching all of the local newscasts on NJTV and the highest-rated New York and Philadelphia commercial stations, WNBC and WPVI respectively. While NJTV devotes 81% of its 30-minute time slot to straight news, WPVI devotes only 50% and WNBC devotes a mere 42%. Also, 89% of the stories on NJTV were devoted to New Jersey news, while the numbers for WPVI and WNBC were 24% and 17%. The Seton Hall team also noted that the stories on the commercial stations emphasized crime, while NJTV’s coverage was more toward politics and government.

The reports from these two institutions are chock full of more statistics, but the bottom line is that despite Governor Christie’s evisceration of a New Jersey institution 18 months ago, and despite the fact that one of the Governor’s cheerleaders, Steve Adubato, is a principal in the new organization, the news division is improving. And while the ownership of the station is out of the state’s hands, the state still holds the broadcast licenses. So let’s keep NJTV’s feet to the fire – give credit when deserved, and speak out loudly and forcefully when we think it’s falling behind its mission to serve the citizens of New Jersey.

Below the fold: Nostalgia. The sign-off of NJN with Jim Hooker and Michael Aron

Comments (2)

  1. robosz

    NJTV started in mid-2011, not 2010.

    I haven’t been watching NJ Today too much and would ask if you would describe the editorial policy as fiercely independent?  Would you say that Governor Christie has big regrets because NJ Today is hounding him or taking him to task, or making him look bad?  Or we would he call their product fair and be pleased that NJToday will dependably broadcast stories featuring him and his staff?  

    The small staff exists because of and thanks to Gov Christie.  The NJTV Board is comprised of mostly all Christie appointees, and its Board Chair is the Treasurer.

    As we move forward into this election year, this can be significant. ONLY AFTER THIS YEAR will anyone be able to look back and research how the coverage and framing of the election campaign by NJ Today throughout 2013.  When the Dem nominee is chosen, I am sure there will be some “balance” of coverage provided.  But it will be interesting to see how a news story or potential scandal that might be particularly damaging to the Governor is handled, and the same for a Dem challenger.  For example, would NJ Today repeat NJN’s mistake in 2009 and produce the Michele Brown loan story? This was the NJN story that  went national briefly and gave CC the worst week of his campaign  … and probably the reason NJN’s employees were to be punished once the Gov got into office and the institution trashed.  

    Since you are someone making a personal effort to cultivate Blue Jersey media about Dem people and issues, you should pay attention to how election coverage evolves over the course of the coming year.  If the Governor considers 2013 “no contest,” he may not exert any influence on NJ Today at all.  But if things get hot — or a significant scandal erupts — you would be a good person to watch the framing on NJ Today’s show.

    I would also be interested in how people perceive the Steve Adubato Jr shows and their viewpoint. While not in the News dept, Mr. Adubato has cornered quite a bit of the NJTV broadcast real estate, and it is a forum that I would submit is completely framed by his own views and opinions.  That real estate will showcase people and issues he likes, but won’t go near adversarial ones.  Mr. Adubato also has all that increased tv time thanks to Gov. Christie.  As always in PBS, the on-air product is supposed to be free and clear of even the perception of a conflict of interest.

    Disclosure: I worked in non-fiction special programming at NJN, so it’s difficult to comment on objectively. As a former producer there, not in the News Department, it is always disheartening to hear people only to refer to the News show (at NJN, and now NJ Today at NJTV), as if the other production units devoted to NJ media never existed.  I worked on quite a few documentaries there, all dedicated to NJ’s history and environment, and not many local PBS stations did that kind of production and so NJN was unique nationwide in that way.  NJTV does broadcast indie productions about NJ that are self-funded, but they themselves haven’t been funding any kind of non-News productions, because they barely get enough money to produce NJ Today.

    I wish the folks who work at NJTV the best.  It was difficult before at NJN, getting audience, pulling in the financial resources you need while barely existing in a media void sandwiched between two huge media markets; it must still be so.

  2. deciminyan (Post author)

    I did the math thinking I was still in 2012. NJTV was started in July 2011.


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