Behind a bank of cameras and glass panels, NJTV news anchor Mary Alice Williams interviewed her guest as we watched from the walkway at 2 Gateway Center during our NJ Society of Professional Journalists’ tour on Oct. 22.
Somewhere in the depths of the Agnes Varis Studio in Newark, a person guided the robotic cameras to pan or to zoom in or out.
We went into the studio and production areas, including the control room, guided by Phil Alongi, executive producer for NJTV news. We saw the multi-split screens which received feeds from servers, the rows of computers for staffers who provided the prepared segments and the sound room, isolated for quality audio.
Williams’ interview was being recorded for a segment of that evening’s news. After the interview, she told us that she regards viewers as citizens with aspirations and that the station covers New Jersey news as if it was national news. She said the team likes to cover the environment, health, politics, education, the economy and the arts, which can make a huge difference in the quality of life and economy of a community.
Chief political correspondent Michael Aron told us he sees NJTV’s role as facilitating dialogue between Republicans and Democrats. He’s covered New Jersey politics since 1978, first for New Jersey Monthly magazine, then television. As he noted, “If you’re a journalist, New Jersey never lets you down.”
Alongi added that when national and international stories break, NJTV tries to find the local tie-in. He cited how the news team talked with New Jersey’s Syrian community during coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis.
Correspondent David Cruz said that his coverage is given depth because he grew up in New Jersey and absorbed the changes here. He described himself as someone with “a healthy distrust of authority and rampant curiosity.”
Alongi gave us some insight into what goes on behind the scenes of the studio and the news operations. Noting that the Agnes Varis Studio used to be a bank, he described the process of changing it for use by NJTV. The broadcast area uses LED lighting, which is cooler than incandescent bulbs, lasts longer and which can change color for visual highlights.
Field reporting is made easier by four LiveU recording-and-transmitting backpacks. The 40-pound packs have batteries that last about two hours. Initially, when several reporters were at the same scene, transmitting became a bandwidth problem. That was solved by using just one of the backpacks for transmitting a broadcast.
Alongi’s description of the newsgathering process was familiar – including how news decisions are made. However, with their special mission in news reporting, the team tries to only do stories that teach the viewer something. For instance, they don’t bother chasing breaking crime news unless they can put those stories into a larger perspective.
He said that it’s hard to break down who the audience is, but they do know that the rate of people following them digitally is up 200 percent, while the broadcast audience appears to be down about 5 percent. In addition to their web-page posts, they use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube; posting whole shows and show segments.