For the first time in nearly two centuries, Newark–the largest city in the eighth largest state in America–will not be home to a daily newspaper. After Sept. 8, The Star-Ledger will move its operations to Woodbridge and Edison, leaving the city newspaperless for the first time since the Daily Advertiser opened in the city in 1832. That’s a big story but government-controlled media in New Jersey won’t allow a discussion of it. NJTV News–your public broadcast station–chickened out.
The implications for the city and the state are worth some comment, but, by and large, the escape of The Star-Ledger to the suburbs has gone unnoticed. That’s why it seemed such a good idea for NJTV News, or whatever the allegedly public television station is called now, scheduled a show next week on the implications of the move.
Guy Sterling, a long-time Star-Ledger reporter and Newark resident, was scheduled to be on the show–now there’s a guy who could talk about the city and its news coverage. Joan Whitlow, another veteran of the newspaper, a Newark columnist, and a city resident, also was invited, but had a conflict. I was invited, too, and I accepted, eager to discuss what had been my professional home since 1964, before much of the current management was born. To replace Ms. Whitlow, Guy and I both put forward the name of Stanley Terrell, a great reporter, columnist, editorial writer, city resident, and hero of the uprising at Rahway State Prison.
None of us was bothered when we were told the management of the newspaper would be asked to send a representative–but we didn’t know whether management would send someone. Leaving Newark is, well, an indelicate issue–but I thought, hell, Guy and Stanley and I all love the newspaper and we certainly would not make any of our former colleagues feel uncomfortable. Guy thought no one would show; I thought someone would.
Guy was right. The newspaper declined to have a current employee represent the newspaper on Michael Aron’s “Off the Record”–oh, I am sorry, that’s “On the Record”– show scheduled for next weekend.
Then, Aron dropped the bomb. Because the newspaper’s management refused to send a representative, he was canceling the show. Here is the email Aron sent to Guy and me:
“I’ve decided to scuttle the show we were going to do on the future of the Star-Ledger. I am concerned that hearing from two or three former Ledger reporters without also hearing from someone who can explain the new enterprise is unfair, and our invitation to include a current staff member has been turned down. When we discussed this, Guy, you said that I could control the conversation, which is true. But it has been gnawing at me that I don’t know enough about the Ledger’s plans to hold up that end of the discussion. I apologise (cq) for the false start.”
Consider all of what’s wrong with this. Arguably the state’s best known public-medium news guy, Michael Aron, cancels a show because he can’t learn enough about the topic. Let us also not forget that the big political player in NJTV, Steve Adubato, Jr., is both a big advertiser and columnist for The Star-Ledger (what? yes, that’s right–he often buys himself right on to the front page, the only columnist who could afford to do that). And, since when does a news outlet cancel a look into a major story because one of the sides refuses to comment? And since when should another news outlet refuse to comment–especially about a major story in which it is directly involved, like leaving the city it has served for nearly a century?
Now, to be honest, The Star-Ledger has not been serving Newark for a long time. Hardly covers the place and takes editorial positions that reflect the best interests of the suburban politicians who would like the city just to go away. Consider the extraordinary–almost embarrassingly fawning–support it has given Cami Anderson and the “One Newark” plan to disrupt the lives of tens of thousands of city families. The newspaper’s editorial board even went so far as to suggest that, because Anderson had done such an awful job, she should be given a new contract to help her fix it. Right.
But, Mr. Aron and all the other cowards at New Jersey News or whatever you’re called–history is at play here. This is a big news story, a once in a century story, a major change in the life of the largest city in the most urbanized state in the nation.
How could you guys duck it?