Nearly a year ago, two of the East Coast’s largest metropolitan pubcasting powerhouses took over nine New Jersey pubradio stations, casting uncertainty over the future of public radio news coverage for Garden State listeners. The outlook has begun to brighten as New York Public Radio, operator of WNYC and WQXR, and Philadelphia’s WHYY have brought the New Jersey stations into their operational systems and refined plans to expand and deepen their reporting on New Jersey. For four decades, the New Jersey state government owned and subsidized public radio and TV services delivered through the New Jersey Network. Then last year, New Jersey policymakers decided they wanted out of the broadcasting business. WHYY acquired five stations and NYPR bought four.
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.
New Jersey’s lower legislative house last week voted down the plan by Gov. Chris Christie (R) to turn over the channels and role of the NJN television network to New York’s WNET, and the state Senate is expected to follow if it votes Monday, June 27, according to observers on NJN’s Reporter’s Roundtable. NJN may disappear even if the Senate concurs with the Assembly, however. Last week Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Paul Sarlo (D) raised the option of extending NJN funding for a few more months but predicted that the governor would veto it. The issue has been fully partisanized. Democrats hold a majority of seats in both houses, and the General Assembly’s vote June 23 was 45 to 30, with Democrats opposing the Republican governor’s plan and only one Republican voting with them.
The governor says the state can’t afford New Jersey Network anymore. NJN’s leaders say it would do better as a nonprofit anyway. But the NJN employees’ union predicts that a spun-off nonprofit NJN inevitably would fade away, its valuable assets and New Jersey news lost forever. Looks like the ideal time for a Legislative Task Force on Public Broadcasting, lawmakers decided June 29.
Albert E. Rose, former program director of New Jersey Network and later the program distributor who brought nightly British news programs to U.S. public TV, died of lung cancer June 16, 2010, at a hospice in Newtown, Pa.