Four decades of New Jersey television history could soon be preserved for decades to come, thanks to new funding from a New Jersey nonprofit foundation.
The New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority and WNET on Tuesday announced the awarding of a $380,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. New York-based WNET, which took over operation of New Jersey's public television stations last year, will use the money to create an initial inventory of the now-defunct New Jersey Network's archives, and begin the process of digitizing the estimated 80,000 to 100,000 videos and other media items, and 40,000 to 50,000 hours of recorded material.
"The NJN video archive is a unique historic and cultural repository that chronicles more than 40 years of New Jersey history," said Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, the state treasurer and chairman of the state's public broadcasting authority, in a press release.
John Servidio, general manager of NJN's successor network, NJTV, said the grant money was essential.
"Right now, it's something we would not be able to do without the grant money," he said.
The move won praise from one of NJTV's critics, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-West Deptford).
Burzichelli said preservation of NJN's archives has been a top concern since the WNET transaction. He said he's generally felt NJTV has been under-financed and under-resourced.
"That fact that they were able to corral this grant is very important," he said. "That stuff (the archived footage) is fragile. Very fragile."
Servidio said NJTV will probably devote a couple of current staffers to supervising the inventory project, which he said will begin in a matter of weeks. He said they'll also use freelancers and outside experts to determine what can be preserved, and how. WNET also will consult with the public broadcasting authority and former NJN staff.
Servidio didn't have an estimate of how long it will take to fully archive the trove.
"It's going to be a long process," he said. "It's not going to be months."
That long process will also be a costly process. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant is designed only to cover the inventory process, but more money will be needed to complete the archival work. Sidamon-Eristoff said the authority will continue to seek outside funding to complete the project.
Burzichelli said he hopes that route is successful, but he would also be open to taking legislative action to find funding, if necessary, particularly given the time-sensitive nature of the project.
"I look at it as historical preservation," he said, "and we have money for those kinds of projects."
Burzichelli said he hopes the completed archive will be searchable and readily accessible by the public online.
Bill Quinn, a Treasury spokesman, said the ultimate goal is to make as much of the archive as possible accessible to the public, but he said it's too soon to know what will ultimately be feasible, given the nascent status of the project.