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New Jersey wants new operator of NJN by end of spring
[December 29, 2010]

New Jersey wants new operator of NJN by end of spring

Dec 29, 2010 (The Press of Atlantic City - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- State officials who met with Richard Stockton College representatives last week to hear their proposal to take over the New Jersey Network told the college they hope to have a new operator by March, officials at the meeting said.

Stockton had voiced interest this month in adapting the public broadcasting network to run under Stockton's nonprofit organization, setting up a partnership with a collective of state schools to offer a statewide chain of broadcast hubs.

During an afternoon meeting Dec. 20, school officials discussed that proposal with policy staff to Gov. Chris Christie.

Sharon Schulman, special assistant to the president of the college, who was present at the meeting, said Tuesday that the state expects to issue a request for proposals early next year, a process that could see the broadcasting network heading for new ownership by the end of spring.

"We were told they wanted to see this started by mid-January, and that they wanted an answer by March," Schulman said.

The meeting puts Stockton in the running as one of a number of contenders to operate the broadcaster, nearly a year after Christie announced he would seek to dump the network as part of a process to slim down state-operated assets.

With five TV channels and a radio system with seven frequencies, NJN uses taxpayer funds as well as private donations and membership fees to deliver news and programming across the state.

But the station and its associated foundation have both failed to remain profitable.

Stockton's plan, laid out in a concept paper issued to the administration Dec. 7, would recast the network as One New Jersey, and would run the operation under the college's 501c3 organization, Stockton Affiliated Services Inc., or SASI. The plan uses the money generated by selling the station's broadcast licenses to create an endowment that could fund operations each year.

However, discussions between the administration and the college do not mean Stockton has an advantage over other interested parties.

In a possible sticking point, Schulman said the administration indicated they would look to hold onto the broadcast licenses.

"If there isn't an endowment, there's simply no way we can be involved," she said, indicating that the college had yet to decide whether to pursue the network. "We need to have a source for operating revenue, and it needs to come from somewhere other than taxpayers." However, she also confirmed that Stockton has offered to work in partnership with another college if necessary to make the plan a reality.

Montclair State University in Essex County has previously been mentioned by lawmakers as having an interest in taking on the station.

Stockton President Herman J. Saatkamp Jr. said in his letter to Christie that his college already has secured a commitment from Burlington County College to serve as one of a minimum of two additional college hubs.

Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, who has taken a keen interest in Stockon's proposal, confirmed the state also continued to see interest from a number of potential operators ready to consider taking on the challenge, among them other regional public broadcasters in New York and Philadelphia.

"What we can say is at this stage, Stockton is not the only entity exploring this opportunity," Amodeo said. "Obviously, I'm disappointed at that, because I feel southern New Jersey has been elbowed out by the station in recent years. The college's proposal would bring a real statewide representation. But with the RFP process, everyone who is interested will present their plans." Amodeo serves on the joint legislative task force that has undertaken a look at the station's options for the future.

Christie raised expectations last month that the stations' studios would not go dark in January, despite their allocation of state budget funds scheduled to run out. He indicated he would allow extra funds to tide the station over during a transition to a new operator.

The state Treasury Department has also contracted a consultant to assess the value of the licenses.

The station's 130 workers, who received 45-day layoff notices Nov. 16, heard Dec. 17 that those layoffs were suspended pending the decision.

Contact Juliet Fletcher: 609-292-4935 [email protected] To see more of The Press of Atlantic City, go to Copyright (c) 2010, The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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