For 13 years, the Turner Broadcasting System has offered a free daily package of news and features for classrooms, with nary an ad to be seen. But the service is about to take on a more commercial tinge, with the introduction of paid corporate sponsorships.
Under pressure from Turner’s parent company—the media conglomerate AOL Time Warner—to increase profits, the TBS education unit will begin airing sponsoring companies’ logos during the newly renamed CNN Student News. The 30-minute program was formerly known as CNN Newsroom.
The program, used in about 18,000 schools nationwide, was a pet project of the media tycoon Ted Turner when he owned TBS, and was never designed to turn a profit. Although a top executive at AOL Time Warner, Mr. Turner no longer has control of his former cable television empire, which includes the Cable News Network.
Critics lamented the decision to air sponsorships as another step in the commercialization of education. The move is especially notable because the ad-free nature of the program had been one of the main features that distinguished CNN Newsroom news from its chief rival, the Channel One Network, which has aired advertisements since its inception in 1990.
Mitch Leff, the director of public relations for Turner Learning, the Atlanta-based educational division of TBS, said viewers would see little change—just a few seconds of showing a sponsoring organization’s logo, with a voice-over saying that the segment was “brought to you by” that sponsor.
But accepting sponsorships is “stepping outside a line that has been drawn,” said Kathryn Montgomery, the president of the Center for Media Education, a Washington-based group that opposes advertising in schools.
Ms. Montgomery said that CNN Newsroom had been noteworthy for “offering something to young people in the classroom that was not part of a whole commercialism strategy.”
“I’ve often found their coverage of news is often more substantive and insightful” than regular news broadcasts, she added.
Teachers typically set video recorders to tape the program when it is broadcast daily at 4:30 a.m., then use it in their classroom at their discretion. The service also provides news and resources on an accompanying Web siteCNNstudentnews.com—and a daily teacher’s guide that connects the day’s show to nationally recognized academic standards.
Potential sponsors include educational organizations, companies that serve the education market—such as textbook and software companies—and companies promoting educational initiatives.
Ms. Montgomery said she fears it may be difficult for Turner Learning to resist limiting advertising once the sponsorships start.
“If this service has to pay for itself, and given the fact that young people are such a hot market, there’s going to be a move to reach that audience, to push that envelope further,” she predicted.
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2002 edition of Education Week as CNN Student News Program To Air Paid Sponsorships