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Joint Media Venture To Bring Free News Videos to Schools

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Four media companies have launched a joint venture to provide free news and current-events videotapes, classroom wall posters, and other materials to elementary schools.

The venture, called "'Kidsnews,'' will be supported through advertising on the wall posters, and the videotapes will include brief sponsorship messages like those seen on public television, its developers say.

The project is somewhat similar to Whittle Communications' Channel One classroom news show, which is delivered by satellite daily to 12,000 secondary schools nationwide.

However, the developers of Kidsnews were quick to point out the differences between their product and Channel One, which has drawn the wrath of some educators because it has two minutes of commercials in each show.

"We have positioned ourselves in the schools as the responsible alternative to Channel One,'' said Wake Smith, the president of SCOT Communications Inc., a developer of corporate-sponsored educational materials and one of the partners in Kidsnews.

Unlike Whittle, Kidsnews will not lend video equipment to schools in exchange for their showing the program to students.

Instead, participating schools will receive free videocassettes and related materials six times a year. The videos will include four major news stories or current-events topics, as well as sponsorship messages lasting no longer than three seconds each. The only advertising will be on the accompanying wall posters.

The other partners in Kidsnews are Conus Communication Company, a major satellite newsgathering organization; Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., the owner of several television stations; and Petry Inc., an advertising-sales firm.

Less Opposition Expected

Kidsnews will be launched in September in 3,000 elementary schools nationwide, Mr. Smith said. The venture has already attracted three major sponsors whose products appeal to children: the toymaker Hasbro Inc.; Hershey Foods Corporation; and Quaker Oats Company.

Mr. Smith said he doubted that Kidsnews would draw as much flak over the advertising issue as Channel One has from education groups.

"Limiting the advertising to the wall-media element proved popular'' in tests of Kidsnews, he said. "The concept of video advertising is a controversial one. Print advertising is more accepted in the schools.''

And while the new videos will come along only once every six weeks, Mr. Smith said many current-events topics appropriate for elementary-age students retain their interest beyond day-to-day news developments.

For example, an environmental segment might examine the destruction of rain forests, and an international-news segment might put into context the war in Bosnia.

"I hope this will become the next generation's My Weekly Reader,'' Mr. Smith said.

William L. Rukeyser, a special assistant to the California superintendent of public instruction, said the Kidsnews concept was less objectionable than Channel One.

"Where the line is crossed both legally and philosophically is where you have an active hard sell in which the school is obligated to put ads before students in a manner which is very hard to ignore,'' said Mr. Rukeyser, whose department has been a vocal critic of Channel One.

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