Published Online: January 29, 1997


Channel One Focuses More on Style Than Substance, Study Says

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The primary goal of Channel One is not to inform students but to amass a vast teenage audience so that high-priced air time can be sold to advertisers, a scholar who studied the televised news program asserts in a study released last week.

William Hoynes, a sociology professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., reviewed 36 of the classroom programs that were broadcast between November 1995 and March 1996.

His study did not examine the effects of Channel One in the classroom and on student learning, as other researchers have done with mixed conclusions. Instead, he analyzed the subject matter and presentation of the 96 news items in the 36 programs.

He concludes that the slickly produced program is a triumph of style over substance, "fundamentally commercial, and the extent that it's educational is highly questionable."

Channel One programs appear daily in more than 12,000 middle and high schools, with 8 million students, said Claudia Peters, the executive vice president of network affairs for Channel One.

Media entrepreneur Christopher Whittle launched the network in 1989, offering schools that signed up satellite dishes, VCRs, classroom television sets, and educational programming in return for requiring students to watch its daily blend of 10 minutes of news and two minutes of commercials.

It has been the subject of a long-running public debate over allowing TV advertising in the classroom.

The network was sold in 1994 to K-III Communications, based in New York City. Advertisers pay $185,000 to air a 30-second commercial, Ms. Peters said.

Education Value Debated

Among his numerous findings, Mr. Hoynes reports that Channel One's news stories drew disproportionately on whites and males for on-camera interviews, especially in its coverage of domestic political issues, during the period studied.

He also says the program devoted only 6 percent of its coverage to economic issues, a fact he considers striking given that Channel One is used heavily by school districts in areas of high poverty.

"Without any substantive economic news to give students the ability to make sense of the economy, the advertising becomes the principal lens through which economic questions are addressed," he writes.

Channel One's most extensive reporting focused on social issues that affected teenagers, such as teen pregnancy and drinking. But Mr. Hoynes argues that those issues were presented as "simplistic morality tales," which in his view diminished their value.

He writes that the program also presented its news anchors in a glamorous light and spent a lot of time talking about itself, factors that he sees as serving to increase students' receptivity to the advertising.

In an interview, Mr. Hoynes acknowledged that some of his criticisms are the same as those that have been leveled at network television news.

But "Channel One pushes even further in the celebritization of anchors and general packaging of itself," he maintained. In addition, Channel One should be evaluated "in a different way, because network news is not required viewing" for 8 million students, he said.

Ms. Peters responded that education is at the heart of the program's mission.

"Channel One news is evaluated by educators 190 days of the year in 12,000 secondary schools" and has a renewal rate of 99 percent, she said. "Time is spent to give teenagers context and in-depth background, so they understand the history of breaking news, such as the fighting in Rwanda."

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