In the famous book of the same title, we learn about the fictional characters in a Nigerian village. For centuries their way of life was preserved…until the arrival of Missionaries. Slowly but surely, The Missionaries began making inroads and wound up winning over converts to their new, and in many ways more appealing existence.
They set up a Church with a new form of government that was hardly tolerant of the traditions it was supplanting. And of course we all know what happens next. As some villagers began to embrace the new doctrine the rituals and customs of the tribe began to crumble. The old way of life – however imperfect – was eventually lost. Forever.
I have been very reluctant to write about the situation at NJN for a lot of reasons including that there are many strongly opinionated factions with different views about what is best for the Network. So rather than publicly cast my lot with any of those, I will offer an insider’s view about what needs to be preserved for whatever direction the decision makers ultimately decide to steer us.
Live coverage is essential. Are there ways to maybe do it more efficiently? Absolutely. That can be worked out. But it cannot be worked out if we move resources away from news. We can’t shed bodies in the transition and we cannot possibly put on the newscast for less money. We barely get it on the air now. There needs to be a live newscast with capability to cover legislative hearings and other major events live. New Jersey has a dearth of political coverage to begin with ( due to it’s odd geographic designation which situates it between two major media markets – NY and Philly ). The loss of NJN will only make that worse.
The Legislative hearings by the NJN Task Force have hit home this point. Next month the members will make their recommendations to the Governor. As I understand it, there is a hope that the report will be bi-partisan and unanimous. Some kind of conversion of NJN seems inevitable at this point. And if that transition is handled fairly and responsibly that may wind up being what is best. There are two pieces of legislation out there. One favored by CWA – the union representing NJN’s state workers which would convert NJN to a more autonomous authority. The ties to State Government would still exist, but the station would have more independence. The other bill introduced by Republicans ( and presumably favored by the Governor ) would create an independent entity that would sever ties from the state of New Jersey. There are good ideas in both bills. And much like the property tax cap bill was amended to reflect new negotiated terms, it occurs to me that a negotiation could produce a final bill in this case that all parties can live with.
In the meantime, while the starting points for that negotiation are currently being staked out…Lawmakers and others who care about the station must compile a mental list of what absolutely needs to stay in order to ensure that NJN remains well, NJN. That includes but is not limited to an extensive video library that has captured New Jersey history over the past 40 years. A broadcast outlet to air that video is also essential – meaning at least one channel dedicated to news and public affairs. And finally, coverage of New Jersey’s ongoing history needs to continue. If New Jersey doesn’t feel a need to preserve it’s very own documentarian going forward then things really do fall apart…and it will be lost. Forever.