If the governor's office and state legislature don't act before Jan. 1, when NJN stops receiving state funding, the four stations would go dark
NJ Public Broadcaster Laying Off 130
TRENTON (AP) — Employees at New Jersey Network received 45-day layoff notices Tuesday as the public television and radio network prepares to move off the government payroll.
Whether the station (which broadcasts over the air in Camden, Trenton, New Brunswick and Montclair) moves off the air on Jan. 1, when it stops receiving state funding and the layoffs take effect, remains to be seen.
The notices said the layoffs were done “for reasons of economy,” but provided few other details about the fate of New Jersey’s only public network.
NJN was incorporated in 1968 and went on the air in 1971. Its purpose was to provide New Jersey-specific programming for viewers living between the major New York City and Philadelphia markets. New Jersey has two commercial TV stations, WMGM in Atlantic City and WWOR in Secaucus.
“Today is really a very difficult day for our loyal staff because the layoff notices have been circulated without any clear description from the executive and legislative branches as to the means of transferring NJN to a new entity,” said Kent Manahan, chairman of the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority Board, which oversees NJN.
The notices went out to 130 employees; 17 additional employees who are paid through a private foundation are also expected to receive layoff notices, said Janice Selinger, the acting executive director of NJN public television.
If the governor’s office and Legislature don’t act before Jan. 1, the station would go dark. However, both branches have “expressed the sentiment that they want us to thrive and continue,” Selinger said, adding that the station just started a new series and continues to fundraise, although that has become more difficult, she said.
Gov. Chris Christie’s budget this year eliminated state funding for the station after Dec. 31, forcing NJN to convert from a government entity to a private, nonprofit broadcast outlet.
Christie has said the state does not need and cannot afford its own TV station, and he proposed transferring operations and licenses to an independent entity.
A legislative task force last month agreed with him, but little has been done to prepare the station for transfer.
Christie has proposed legislation to direct his treasurer to take inventory of the network’s assets to figure out the best way to sell or transfer them. He also wants to begin negotiations with other public broadcasting outlets interested in purchasing the network and its broadcasting licenses.
The station has four broadcasting and eight radio licenses. The licenses can be sold only to other public television stations or religious broadcasters but estimates are uncertain about how much money the state could make by selling them.
While other states have government-owned stations, NJN is unique in that it produces a nightly newscast and is one of the few stations to carry gubernatorial budget addresses live. It is also a member of the PBS network and NPR network for radio, broadcasting public programming as well as producing original broadcasts.
If the station were to come off the air in January, it would have a year before the Federal Communications Commission could take back the broadcast licenses, according to Ellen Goodman, an information policy law professor at Rutgers Law School-Camden.
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said the layoff notices were necessary as NJN becomes independent from the state and said the administration was working with the Legislature to come up with a transition process.