Lights a bit dimmer for NJN?

The Star Ledger got it right last April when it gave a thumb's-up to the NJN management plan to wean “the state's only public television station off the government dole” (Editorial 4/30/07).

The Ledger’s perspective – whose own management knows a little about diminishing revenue sources: “With Gov. Jon Corzine and legislators scouring the budget for savings on every line on every page, the NJN proposal should be embraced – wholeheartedly.”

The plan, championed by soon-to-be-ex NJN Executive Director Elizabeth Christopherson, proposed to transform NJN from a state licensed entity to a community licensed franchise.

At the time and more recently, some inside observers, off-the-record, claimed the station’s real management – the Governor and the legislature – do not have the political will to deal with the static from a unionized workforce.

Now its biggest cheerleader and the person many count responsible for raising close to $100 million in private donations since the formation of the NJN Foundation, is leaving her post effective December 1st. Christopherson said she has “other opportunities” she does not want to discuss. For now, she wants to keep the spotlight on NJN and the challenges and opportunities it faces in the future.

So come next month, NJN will be without an executive director and will have a freeze on hiring, more budget cuts likely in the current fiscal year and still the need for $20 million plus in capital improvements.

The New Year will also leave the legislature and the Governor’s office with few options to keep the lights on at NJN.

The union believes there are other models that could fix the problem, including a 1981 measure that would have changed the structure of the NJ Public Broadcasting Authority and allowed NJN more flexibility in procurement and negotiation over its licensing contracts (a.k.a. non-state-based revenue sources).

The bill was vetoed by then Governor Byrne at the end of his term to allow more time for the incoming Kean administration to study the idea.

Now almost 27 years later – and after all that study time — does anyone really think this bill has any legs?

NJN is exactly in the same place it was three decades ago with no clear direction for the future and no champion in the legislature willing to take on its public mission.

Except today, the state is staring down a $4 billion deficit and NJN’s biggest private fundraiser has resigned.