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The Case for NJN

The clock is ticking for NJN.

New Jersey Network. The New Jersey Channel. JerseyVision (yes, it was once called that).

Forty years of broadcast television focused on one thing – the state of New Jersey.

It would be a shame to lose that. Yet it is difficult to justify NJN’s state operation as an essential government service. However, NJN – or the existence of some broadcast entity focused on the state – is essential to New Jersey’s identity.

While NJN’s audience is small, the impact of having a visual broadcast medium that keeps tabs on state issues five days a week (barring public holidays, of course) is measured in more than Nielsen ratings. Much has been made of the potential loss of NJN News coverage if the station goes dark on January 1.

Frankly, it’s unique to have a station, public or commercial, devoted to state news. Given the current condition of broadcast media, it’s amazing that NJN has lasted so long in its current form.

Frankly, NJN should have been planning to move away from state government a long time ago. While accusations of government sycophancy in its reporting are unjustified – the quality of journalism is among the highest – the fact that the NJN news team is on the public payroll has allowed those charges to persist.

That move must be made in a few short weeks, unless the governor relents and extends the transition period until a truly viable solution to re-vision NJN is developed.

I, for one, hope he does. And not just because I show up on the airwaves there from time to time. I’ve been a member of NJN since 1994, well before my punditry days. I support NJN not just for its news coverage, but for the focus it brings to all aspects of life in the Garden State.

For a state that lacks a cohesive identity, NJN has helped to bridge the gap between north and south. Growing up in Camden County – NJN went on the air when I was 8 years old – NJN conveyed a sense that my state was more than just a suburb of Philadelphia.

That sense is found in shows like State of the Arts, Images/Imagenes, and Another View. And specials like Our Vanishing Past, Greetings from Asbury Park, and 10 Crucial Days – highlighting the pivotal role New Jersey played in the American Revolution. These programs could only be produced by a public entity that puts the telling of New Jersey’s story at the root of its mission.

I’m no Pollyanna. Both the cultural and the news programming of NJN could use a bit of modernizing. But if NJN ceases to exist entirely, the state will be lesser for it. You can’t find this content anywhere else.

As a pollster, one of my missions has been to bring a focus on New Jersey as a state – what unites us, what divides us, and ultimately, what drives our quality of life. A sense of statewide identity has always been a major struggle for us. A repurposed NJN can contribute to building that identity.

Hopefully, this transition period will be used as an opportunity to build a revitalized NJN.