NJ Spotlight, an online news site dedicated to covering state government and doing in-depth analysis of public policy and its aftershocks, has been acquired by WNET, the Public Broadcasting Service operator of NJTV.

Together, NJ Spotlight and NJTV, will form a multi-platform news service covering the serious business of New Jersey, which has always been a television outlier for New York and Philadelphia networks.

While there is no print product in this new partnership, NJ Spotlight delivers a muscular ‘text’ product. That means they write, we read. Remember reading?

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I know I’m a little prejudiced on this, but 15-second video clips designed for the social media’s darting eyes, hardly convey the full picture of any story, let alone explain anything.

Explaining, patiently and in-depth, is what NJ Spotlight does best. The website, started by former Star-Ledger education writer John Mooney and Lee Keough, has stood firm in the stubborn belief that there remains a population that actually cares about government affairs and workings -- beyond the name Trump.

The second part of that belief is that population should be served – beyond listing the coolest bars in Hoboken.

Ultimately, service – as in public service -- is what this deal is all about.

“This is a massive shift in our landscape,” said Phil Alongi, NJTV News executive producer. “We can now serve our audience on television, and an expanding digital platform.”

Alongi said part of the shift was the emergence of TAPinto, this hyperlocal site, as kind of a one-two punch of a new day in New Jersey for journalism.

“This is all part of the same package to give people news they should know, and that matters,” he said. 

This idea of journalism serving the public is Bill of Rights, Fourth Estate, Journalism 101, stuff. The basics. A free press holds government and other powers accountable. It fields and airs public complaints. It’s a pebble in the shoe of the corrupt and self-serving. Or should be.

Alongi said the partnership “was born out of admiration of what Mooney and Lee were doing at Spotlight.

“I was envious of their ability to do more in-depth public journalism, while we race every day just to make it on the air,” Alongi said.

“I had two choices: replicate what they were doing or ask for their hand in marriage,” he said.

The wedding was made official earlier today but the courtship has been going on for a long time. The idea was floated 18 months ago, hard talks accelerated in the last six. 

But long before the talks started, public need had been growing for several years, as the major print players’ black ink turned to red. Make that gushed red. Journalism, and journalists, suffered. The newspaper business shed half its workforce from 2008 to 2017. That fact actually surprised me. I thought it was more. Here in New Jersey, it certainly felt that way. It felt like we were stagecoach drivers in the railroad era.

With that loss of reporters came loss of coverage, a simple equation, and text journalism, still the staple of digital versions of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, was held in less regard because it doesn’t generate the marketing clicks.

Now under the umbrella of the Public Broadcasting Network, NJ Spotlight can continue the good work and not have to worry about the lights going off.

“We are very fortunate as journalists to be liberated from fight for clicks or viewership,” said Alongi. “And, with this partnership, we’ve just expanded from eight reporters to 14 overnight. We’re expanding instead of declining and New Jersey wins.”

Mooney agreed.

“The biggest winners are the residents of New Jersey,” he said. “They will benefit from the increased focus and resources covering issues important to them, like education, healthcare and the environment.”

Sure, it’s dry stuff but it’s where our tax dollars go, so it’s worth more than a look. It’s worth our attention.