I thought it might be of interest to NJN viewers to talk about the decision that was made to carry live on our air and on the internet the public hearings convened by the special legislative task force delving into the future of New Jersey Network. I was among those who advocated for it.
We’ve carried the first two in their entirety — the first Tuesday at the State House in Trenton; the second yesterday at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, Atlantic County — and plan to carry the third in its entirety next Thursday beginning at 6 p.m. from Montclair, Essex County.
From my point of view — one shared by a number of colleagues here, including our executive producer, Mike Curtis, who first broached the idea — the argument for us to carry the hearings live and gavel-to-gavel was grounded in the belief that those who watch their public television station and who help pay for it through their state tax dollars should be able to learn first-hand of discussions centered around its future by watching it play out on that very service, warts and all, with opinions and ideas offered by any and all who cared to come forward.
Our Interim News Director, Senior Political Correspondent Michael Aron, sought input from the news staff.
Some here thought carrying the hearings live would be self-serving and viewed by the public as a use and even an abuse of resources just because we have them. I believe the folks who aired these opinions were in the distinct minority, though their judgment here and elsewhere is respected by colleagues, including myself. (In fact we did receive a couple of viewer complaints about NJN News doing coverage earlier of Gov. Christie’s plans to privatize NJN as just that, self-serving).
But supporters of the decision say NJN’s standing as a main source of statewide news and information as well as an important arm of the state’s cultural and even educational life trumps any “self-serving” claims. If anything, we’re serving those who watch and those who will watch into the future — should the network continue to exist in some form.
Michael Aron issued a memo to staff explaining his decision. He wrote that he arrived at his decision because of factors that included: “the importance of NJN as the only statewide broadcast outlet in New Jersey and given its uncertain future, and given the crisis in the media generally these days that has resulted in less or patchwork coverage of state affairs, it makes sense to pre-empt regular programming for two half-days to carry the hearings live …”
After the second hearing aired, Michael decided — again with backing from most staff for reasons talked about above — to carry Montclair’s hearing live as well. So as not to pre-empt our news program at 6 and 7:30 p..m., we’re going to carry that one on NJN2, our digital channel, and, of course, on our website at NJN.net/news. We will also likely re-broadcast the hearing in its entirety on our main NJN channel soon afterward (no firm time for that in the schedule just yet).
And another note here, we’ve also been covering the hearings on our nightly news program; which our viewers are aware is focused on public policy and other issues affecting the state. Again, we here at NJN News believe the Legislature’s discussion of the future of the network is, by definition, news.
That’s not to say it’s easy to cover yourself when you become the news. But as State House Corrsepondent Zack Fink pointed out in his live shot after the first hearing on Tuesday, “Those are the cards we’ve been dealt.” Zack also acknowledged that the news and editorial staff has taken no position on whether to privatize or what’s the best way to go about ensuring a healthy future for the network.
On the morning of the first hearing, I bumped into one State House wag in the cafeteria there whose witticisms I’ve (mostly) enjoyed for years now. “So what’s it like covering your own execution,” said the wag, Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club. It was a great show of dry-witted gallows humor and while I told him I appreciated it, it also was used to his barbs being directed elsewhere, on one issue or another. This time I was — or we at NJN News — were the target. (And just for the record and in the interest of disclosure, Tittel and fellow environmentalist Dave Pringle did go before the committee and speak out in NJN’s favor later in the day).
But I don’t know that Gov. Christie or the Legislature are contemplating NJN’s “execution” so much as trying to wean the operation off its dependence on taxpayers and backed by some sort of non-profit or possibly sold to some other public television network. Though some believe that there will always be some role of support for the state to play for its public television outlet. But now I’m getting into some of the arguments at play, and for that you can watch our coverage or someone else’s, or, better yet, you can watch the hearings yourself on the internet for an unvarnished vetting.
I will say here that we in news do believe in continuing our mission to inform New Jerseyans about the important policies and events of their time.
The difference this time is that some of those policies and events just happen to revolve around the messenger.