No hard feelings in evidence, the New Jersey Network’s nonprofit fundraising group said last week it will help raise production money for NJTV, NJN’s successor operated by an affiliate of New York’s WNET.
“They will take the lead with underwriting — I’m happy to let them keep doing that,” says Neal Shapiro, president of WNET and chair of NJTV, who adds that there may be occasions when NJTV and WNET’s New York stations might sell underwriting together.
Meanwhile, NJTV’s new staff, with help from WNET’s, will handle member/viewer fundraising. Indeed, WNET’s staff will provide many services to the new operation, enabling NJTV to operate with about 20 staffers in New Jersey, compared with NJN’s staff of about 130.
One of NJTV’s first hirings will also unite the former NJN Foundation with the new operators of the network. Michael Aron, NJN’s last news director and a longtime statehouse watcher, was named to twin posts — v.p. of news and public affairs for the foundation and chief political correspondent for NJTV. He’ll return as host and e.p. of the NJN programs On The Record and Reporters Roundtable with Michael Aron. And he’ll report from Trenton for NJTV’s NJ Today starting in the fall.
Just seven weeks ago, New Jersey state officials selected WNET’s NJTV plan over proposals from the NJN Foundation and several other bidders to operate NJN’s four-station network for the next five years. On July 1, NJTV replaced NJN on the air, assembling a daily schedule and producing a nightly newscast with temporary workers while planning a future, finding studios and offices in New Jersey, and hiring a permanent staff.
In a handshake across the Hudson, the chair and two other board members of the NJN Foundation (now the Foundation for New Jersey Public Broadcasting) will join the board of NJTV (a New Jersey nonprofit, Public Media NJ Inc.).
Anthony Bastardi, a construction exec who chairs the foundation, says it will select programs to support and won’t carry NJTV deficits, if any develop. The NJN Foundation, in contrast, helped cover NJN’s deficits while the state cut its contributions in recent years. “The foundation for the past couple years depleted its war chest in support of the network,” Bastardi said.
WNET also has pledged not to carry NJTV deficits, so the board of the new operation will have considerable independence to make or break its budget.
That board will include:
- former Gov. Tom Kean (R), who chairs both the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation;
- Bastardi, board chair and c.e.o. of Strategic Development Group Inc. and a board member of FNJPB;
- Thomas Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and an FNJPB board member;
- Dennis Bone, president of Verizon New Jersey and an FNJPB Board member;
- Shapiro, chair of NJTV’s parent Public Media NJ, and president of WNET;
- public relations exec Liz Thomas, and
- philanthropist Josh Weston, who was chair of the big computer services company ADP.
The newscast is “the most important connection” that viewers will have with NJTV, Shapiro says.
The nightly half-hour NJToday carries the subtitle Summer Edition to imply that a different program will arrive in the fall, a point that Shapiro is quick to underline. One night last week Summer Edition host Rafael Pi Roman, a longtime WNET announcer, read shorts for about 10 minutes, introducing one field report, and independent producer Caucus Educational Corp., headed by Steve Adubato Jr., filled the rest of the half-hour with two extended studio interviews.
Adubato, a longtime producer of public affairs shows for WNET and NJN and son of prominent Newark politician Steve Adubato Sr., will be a major producer for NJTV, according to Shapiro, though he won’t be producing for the nightly show when it’s fully staffed.
A handful of state employees will continue to operate the transmitters, which are still licensed to the state. But NJTV will not use NJN’s former Trenton studios and is seeking smaller quarters for HD production, Shapiro says.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s WHYY, which bought five of NJN’s nine radio stations from the state, said two anonymous donors are assisting, one giving $926,000 to buy three of the stations and the other giving $212,500 for a South Jersey market study and hiring an aerial ad company to tow a banner above New Jersey beaches.
Critics of the discontinuation of NJN often didn’t like the newscast produced by its successor, NJTV. After a week on the air, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D). saw a “dramatic” decrease in the program’s quality.
NJTV’s newscast was “generally pretty good,” commented Gov. Chris Christie, three weeks after the switch away from NJN. “Let‘s give it time. Three weeks ago they didn‘t even know they were going to exist for sure,” he said, according to the Gannett newspapers.