March 20th, 2002

CNN Ad Plan Upsets Users of School-News Unit

By Eric Hubler
Denver Post

Corporate sponsorships are coming to a student news broadcast used in 18,000 classrooms nationwide, including 200 in Colorado, leading social studies teachers to say they’ll respect the show - and use it - less.

Atlanta’s Turner Broadcasting started CNN Student News as a commercial-free service to schools in 1989 but needs to ‘add a revenue component’ because of last year’s merger that brought the company into media conglomerate AOL Time Warner, spokesman Mitch Leff said.

‘I think what you’ll probably see is less folks choosing to use it in the classroom, and that is a shame. It really is a very good program,’ said Debbie Milliser, a social studies teacher at Eaglecrest High School in Aurora.

CNN Student News is broadcast at 4:30 a.m. Eastern time on CNN so schools can record it and use it during the school day.

At Eaglecrest, technology specialist Miriam Titony keeps two weeks’ worth of broadcasts on hand so students can use video clips in projects.

Turner hasn’t gotten any sponsors to sign on yet, but hopes to do so within the next few months, Leff said.

Turner came under fire last week from Commercial Alert of Portland, Ore., the same group that got another schoolhouse broadcaster, Channel One, to back away from offering $ 500 commissions to teachers. Comparing CNN Student News with Channel One is unfair, Leff said. While Channel One includes regular TV commercials for consumer products, CNN Student News is adding only PBS-style corporate logos from companies already in the education business, such as textbook publishers, he said.

‘We are not intending in any way to go with the full commercial type of format,’ Leff said.

Also, only the second half of the 30-minute show, which features student-produced work, will use the logos.

Teachers who dislike the sponsorships can use just the first half, which shows national and world news, Leff said.

Channel One, by contrast, makes school districts sign contracts requiring teachers to show its entire broadcast, commercials and all.

‘The trust of the teachers is very important to us and if we lose their trust they’re not going to use our program. There’s no point creating a product people aren’t going to use,’ Leff said.

Yet that’s what will happen, Eaglecrest’s Milliser predicted.

‘I understand that money is the great economic driver here, but from an educational standpoint I really don’t see that that is purposeful,’ Milliser said.

The National Council for the Social Studies isn’t buying the PBS argument either, noting that PBS does not limit itself to logos anymore.

‘It sort of opens the door and once you open it an inch they take more and more,’ said Al Frascella, spokesman for the Maryland-based association of social studies teachers.

The burden of producing profits for AOL Time Warner shouldn’t fall on students, Commercial Alert’s executive director, Gary Ruskin, said.

‘Schools are for teaching and learning, not advertising and shopping,’ Ruskin said.

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