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Archive for the ‘NJN’ Category

So, now that there is a somewhat nebulous bill to perhaps briefly extend the life of NJN, I have been approached numerous times  by people who say, “did you hear??!!” Six more months!!! Alright!!!!”

Forgive me, for failing to share their enthusiasm. But the fact that a possible six month reprieve engenders such excitement gives you a sense of how far the terms of this debate have shifted.

I say “possible” because the legislation to figure out NJN doesn’t technically include a funding source. Money will have to be moved around elsewhere  in order to keep this place alive.

As I have noted several times, the model here is outdated and needs to be changed. However, a transition that insures some kind of continuity would be ideal. Unfortunately, the lack of certainty has left people who work here confused and scared and that makes getting the product on the air more and more difficult each day. That is a sad state of affairs for a group of people who have devoted so much time and energy to the State’s New Jersey Network, which ultimately belongs to the people.

But there is another angle here which is worth noting. The legislators seem inclined to go along with a rapid transition, once the interested parties can figure out the new structure. They should be very cautious here. NJN covers the Legislature like a glove. There is tremendous value in that. Our coverage is comprehensive and fair. The individual bills and causes that are pushed by members may fall off sharply when NJN changes. That goes for both Republicans and Democrats.

Our Governor has often been described as a “rock star.” There is a lot of truth in that. He is able to get exposure elsewhere, including at his series of Town Hall Meetings…highlights of which are cleverly uploaded to youtube. This basically bypasses the local media by going straight to the people. The world of communications allows that today, and the Governor’s press shop has proven very adept at capitalizing on it.

Legislators with smaller bully pulpits still need local media to get exposure. And that is something to consider when the plans for NJN start to emerge.

After all, you never give away the store without at least getting a fair price.

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I must confess the situation at NJN continues to both frighten and fascinate me. On the one hand, I feel like I am in an episode of  “Tyler Perry Presents: The End of My Career,” on the other hand the Reporter in me is riveted by what might happen next.

With funding due to run dry here by the first of the year, our Stockton Street Headquarters is fast becoming a morbid place to work. We have heard very little about what the plan is for this place. The Legislature jointly owns the licenses with the Executive Branch giving them equal say over how to proceed. As I have noted numerous times, that is not a system I am particularly comfortable with, but one whose rules I must obey.

Here is where we are. Contingency plans are being made to wind this place down. We have heard from both branches that no one wants to see this place “go dark.” Well, that doesn’t mean keep us around exactly either. People here have been told to pull “evergreen” shows. That means shows that are not timely and could conceivably run on a loop should we all be laid off and two or three people remain employed here to run tapes of re-runs just to keep a presence on the air.

I really wonder if the elite political class who run this state would allow the latter scenario to transpire. NJN has covered that group with intense determination and most importantly – deep respect – for almost forty years. The process of high impact decision making for New Jersey and governing this State is the people’s business and it deserves the level of coverage NJN has always provided.

The decision makers over those years have been captured in the NJN video archives. And starting this week, we have begun reaching into the vault to air some of that footage that you will literally not find anywhere else.

NJN’s old archive tapes are located at a warehouse in  West Trenton. NJN News Managing Editor and Anchor Jim Hooker has been making trips there to pull some of this historic video and film. NJN of course has been capturing New Jersey history all of these years, and that archive ( which belongs to the people btw ) is a treasure that should not be overlooked, no matter what our fate.

We will be airing nightly segments on our evening newscast through the month of December. Check it out.

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In the late 1960’s Governor Richard Hughes decided to do something once and for all about the media blackout in New Jersey. With Philly and New York paying scant attention to New Jersey issues and politics, Hughes helped create what is today New Jersey Network.

It was both a terrific and a flawed idea. On the one hand, New Jersey needs its own source of news and information. And having the profit motive taken out of the equation allowed NJN to focus on issues and substance rather than fluff and entertainment ( yes, even then people cared about celebrities although when they read glossy magazines I’m not sure they bothered to dog-ear the pages just to make sure they don’t miss anything as I’ve seen people do today with US Weekly and other mags ).

But there were also some mistakes which can be clearly understood now with the benefit of hindsight. To begin with the future of communications was all television back then. No one could predict how much that would change. Television isn’t going anywhere, but it’s impact as the dominant medium is clearly being diluted.

Moreover, by the State taking on the role of TV station, then failing to adapt as the media environment did, NJN was left languishing in some 1960’s vision of what the “media” is. So a fair argument can be made that New Jersey should never have gotten into the television biz to begin with.

But here is the problem: it did. And for the last 40 years, NJN has been almost fully funded by the State. So, when a decision was made to end that relationship, there were plenty of people who said ‘good idea.’ But to go from 40 years of State aid to zero State aid in a matter of six months has left some supporters of this station slightly puzzled about how that can work. Funding runs out here on January 1 which as you might imagine has created a bit of a panic within the building.

But lemme go back to the operative phrase hidden in my last paragraph about State support for 40 years, then going cold turkey ( get it? “turkey”…Thanksgiving. Duh ) in six months. Government systems are not designed to move quickly. Our Constitutional Republic form of Government which is replicated by the states is programmed to move deliberately and methodically. They were set up that way for a reason. It is my opinion that people are somewhat conservative by nature and don’t like huge changes from their government in short periods of time.

Like it or not…NJN is a branch of State Government, and the truth is, I have some problems with that. And I have also had some frustrations on a professional level working within that system. But as the bloated Titanic of this network heads for the metaphoric iceberg just understand that if the boat sinks, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

95% of all Public TV stations get some public funding, according to The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I’m all for making NJN one of the stations that doesn’t. But the current structure here may need a little more time to make that transition which is what the bi-partisan NJN Legislative Task Force concluded.

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In the movie “Citizen Kane” the newspaper magnate helped drive his own sales because of a high public profile that made news. But in real life, journalists never wanna become the story.

Well, the story lately is NJN which has put me in the awkward position of covering my colleagues and myself…including the issuance of layoff notices earlier this week. ( btw – our “pink slips” weren’t actually pink. That’s fascinating )

Administration officials and others tell me that they believe the best option is a takeover by WNET, Channel 13 in New York with Steve Adubato Jr. attached to the deal who would presumably oversee the content and ensure that the New Jersey-centric mandate continues. But here is the Governor’s number one stipulation – no more state funding. That means 130 employees will need to come off the state rolls.

basically, it all comes down to money. Without a stable source of funding, it’s going to be hard to make this work. Thirteen has it’s own financial issues. In fact ( as has been reported in this space ), Thirteen gets a grant from the State of New York each year. Last year it was $8.7 million. People in New York seem to have no problem with that. And it would put New Jersey in the odd position of no longer being subsidized by the taxpayers of New Jersey, but  subsidized instead partially by the taxpayers of New York? Hmmm. that sorta undermines the whole idea of having an independent media outlet that is not dominated by New York or Philly which is why NJN was set up in the first place.

Here is the bottom line: the world has changed. When I was growing up I thought the “the future” was gonna mean flying cars and Summer homes on the Moon. In fact, the major technological leaps have been in the field of communications rather than aviation. In other words, the media landscape has shifted dramatically from what it was 40 years ago when NJN was born. We need a new model for NJN. No question about it.

So can the Thirteen thing work? I am open minded, if not necessarily confident. Montclair State University is another possibility. They have expressed an interest in taking us over. But an Administration official tells me that does not comport with the Governor’s mandate to get us outta the state system.

The dynamic is as follows: When Democrats opted not to fight to restore funding for NJN for the full fiscal year it meant the dollars drying up January 1. So that puts them in a weaker negotiating position now on NJN than the Governor.  As one Democrat told me, they fear Christie will say to them it’s either this Thirteen plan or I’ll let it go dark. The Legislators can write a supplemental to keep us alive for a few more months…but Christie can simply veto that. And the front office folks say they are not extending a lifeline without a solid plan. See where this is headed?

I hope something gets figured out. Not only for personal reasons but because the NJN brand has been loyal to New Jersey for 40 years. It’s time for New Jersey to show some loyalty right back and keep the station alive, albeit in a  different incarnation.

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So, the NJN Legislative task Force report is out. Apparently, it was embargoed until 5 pm on Friday. We obtained a copy earlier in the day and filed the report I am embedding below for Friday night’s newscast.

Normally, I add the taped piece without comment…but something recently struck my attention. I was combing through the financial statements of WNET Channel Thirteen in New York. Apparently they get an annual subsidy in the form of a grant from the state of New York worth ( at least last year ) $8.7 million.

Let me say that again. Apparently, Channel Thirteen gets nearly $9 million in public funding from the state. Hmmmmm. Really??? And what do they get out of it? Certainly not a nightly newscast. And little in the way of local public affairs programming. Whereas for NJN’s annual $4 million subsidy the state of New Jersey gets all that and more.

Perhaps I should stop trying to apply logic to this situation.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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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.

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