Why not Secaucus?

THE major TV networks already are facing reductions in staff, cuts in salary, a falloff in advertising, changes in ownership, competition from cable, and hostility from critics. If that weren't enough, NBC reportedly may soon lead a network exodus from Manhattan to New Jersey.

We don't really think NBC should abandon New York City - though the old jokes about the indignity of New Jersey, told by Big Apple sophisticates, merit a certain comeuppance. New Jersey today is booming. It has the lowest unemployment rate of the major states. The New York Giants, resident in the Jersey Meadowlands, are the professional football champions. And so forth. If success once meant crossing the Hudson from Hoboken to Broadway, it is now no comedown to head the other way.

Neither is New York City's financial shape still an argument for staying put.

More important: The networks need to reinforce their commitment to the public service responsibility of broadcast news.

Writer-commentator Andy Rooney is in an open dispute with the CBS brass over corporate policies, complaining that CBS News ``has been turned into primarily a business enterprise and the moral enterprise has been lost.''

ABC economic correspondent Dan Cordtz observes of the ``bottom-line'' mentality now taking over TV news: ``The need to make a profit is not inconsistent with first-rate journalism.'' Cordtz concedes salaries are too high and coverage too often subject to overkill. But with crews, gear, and travel, TV news operations are inherently expensive.

Television, licensed by government, has always dwelt in an ambiguous marshland of commerce and public service. Entertainment values already have seeped into the foundations of TV news. Moving to Secaucus for bottom-line motives could further erode public trust.

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