Report Offers New Plan for NJN and New Jersey Public Radio

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STATE — The state should turn its budgetary crisis into a “moment of opportunity” for restructuring NJN and promoting the development of public radio and online public media in New Jersey, according to a new report from New Jersey Policy Perspective.

The report, “A Future for Public Media in New Jersey: How to Create a New Basis for Public Radio, TV, and Online Media in One of American Journalism’s Worst Covered States,” recommends that the state turn NJN “first into a public corporation and then into a private community nonprofit, dedicated to producing nonpartisan journalism and programming about and for New Jersey in audio, video, and text to be distributed through both traditional media outlets and new media.”

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“The hour is late to save NJN,” writes Paul Starr, a Princeton professor. “But New Jersey still has the opportunity to turn it from an outdated television network into a model for multiplatform public media that fits the conditions of the twenty-first century.”

The report – written by Professor Starr and two of his former students, Scott Weingart and Micah Joselow – argues that the key to assuring NJN’s future without state subsidy lies in a transfer of broadcast licenses to the new temporary public corporation, which should begin selling off some of those licenses to facilitate the network’s transformation.

An initial sale of either NJN’s radio licenses or one of its television licenses could be used to create a “transition fund” for employee retraining, severance, and early retirement packages. Over a longer period, according to the report, the television licenses will become superfluous for distributing video (most viewers already watch TV via cable or satellite), and the TV broadcast spectrum will be converted to use for broadband. Like other public stations, NJN should convert its licenses into an endowment for its new role as a “multi-platform” producer of state and local news, public affairs discussion, and cultural programs.

The report explores several options for developing public radio for New Jersey and concludes that the organization best prepared to assume the leading role would not be NJN but WNYC, the New York public radio station, which already has four times as many radio listeners in New Jersey as NJN. In selling NJN’s radio licenses to WNYC, the new public corporation should ask that WNYC create a separate board for its New Jersey network and turn WNYC-AM into a New Jersey-oriented station.

The report was co-sponsored by the Sandra Starr Foundation, a small Princeton nonprofit established in honor of Professor Starr’s wife, a member of the Princeton Borough Council in the 1990s.


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