Spotlight: Princeton “Within crisis, are the seeds of opportunity” – Marilyn Monroe

by George McCollough, Princeton

The crisis for Princeton Community Television began in 2019 when the organization was unable to negotiate a contract to manage the access channel with the Town of Princeton.  In a startling decision the Town decided to take advantage of a recent law which allowed a Town to utilize its franchise fees to offset property tax increases.  Public outcry could not reverse the decision.  Like many public access stations across the country, Princeton TV found itself at a crossroad.

The station was formed in 1997, when Princeton residents urged the Town to establish a local community station. In 2005, after years of growth, a non-profit, Princeton Community Television, was established to manage the station. Board members were appointed by the Town.  A long term contract between the Town and the new organization provided the means of support to operate and soon activity began humming.

Over 600 community shows were produced yearly.  Classes were held in topics ranging from video production, acting, photography and even makeup for television.  Princeton TV also managed the broadcasts of government meetings for the municipality.

Despite public support the station was unable to get the Town to reconsider its decision.  The station was able to continue operating on the fumes of its reserves until an agreement was made for Princeton Community TV to retain control of the two access channels on each of Comcast’s and Verizon’s systems.  The station would continue with private support moving forward.

In 2020 the Covid lockdown implemented in New Jersey wiped out all activity by the members of Princeton TV.  Housed in a municipal building which was closed to the public further deepened the downward financial spiral. Incredibly, instead of closing temporarily, the station remained operational, presenting as much Covid/Health information as possible as a community service during the health emergency.

Our Opportunity

A new energy began to prevail in 2021 as Princeton TV started its rebuilding efforts.  Princeton TV’s board was completely overhauled.  Business and Civic leaders stepped up, which represented a much wider geographic area than Princeton.  Areas as diverse as Trenton and Montgomery Township were given a seat at the table.  These leaders saw the tremendous value in having a communication outlet that could serve the public in an age of dwindling local media.  Finding a model that would sustain the organization now became the new priority.  However, if a private funding model was going to succeed, creative steps needed to be taken.  The station needed to focus its programming and services beyond Princeton.  Thus, The Central New Jersey Network or CNJN was born.

CNJN is an effort to include other towns beyond Princeton in Mercer County, and to serve towns in Hunterdon and Somerset counties as well.  CNJN is carried in parts of both counties on Verizon’s system.  Since sponsors want the most bang for their buck, expanding the Station’s broadcast reach would become paramount.

Most towns throughout the area have the ability and the right to have access channels but for one reason or another have not utilized these resources.  Initial efforts to reach out to area officials about getting CNJN carried on their local systems have been positive.  However, expanding coverage will be an arduous process.  Even though CNJN takes advantage of many streaming platforms, being carried on cable helps differentiate it from other local media outlets.

CNJN sees a tremendous opportunity buried in the unused access channels throughout Central New Jersey.

Beginning in 2022 efforts at fundraising began to see an uptick.  However slowly, it is a positive sign that CNJN’s efforts are beginning to be recognized.  New programs are being rolled out almost weekly, and they are beginning to see sponsors to help support them.  Even a few veteran community producers have begun to come back.  It is a testament to the hard work of all involved that CNJN still continues to operate.

CNJN is setting off on a new path.  That path is filled with great opportunities. Those opportunities are well worth aspiring towards.