Brains, Feigns and Technophiles
(also appearing in The Slant on Sechelt March 4, 1999)

by Michael Maser

Are brains for rent around here? This question will be debated Monday evening among students and parents at Elphinstone Secondary, who are meeting to discuss a proposal from Toronto-based Youth News Network. The YNN pitch (to every BC school) is to provide TV monitors in every class, a computer lab, and a network wired up to the principals office. In exchange, students are to observe a 12-13 minute YNN newscast each morning, including 2-3 minutes of commercials.

Now take a good sniff. YNN, like its U.S. counterpart "Channel One", serves up an advertiser's dream AKA a "pure demographic". Like shooting fish in a barrel, YNN provides a captive audience of teenagers for corporations like Proctor and Gamble, Pepsi and Nike to blast away with their most seductive pitches.

In the eyes of corporate America, teens represent a very lucrative market, with deep bank accounts and the ability to exert formidable pressure on parents to part with additional bucks for stuff. Details can be found in trade mags like Marketing and Advertising Age that regularly run special editions on "reaching the teen market." And reach it they have. According to the Canadian Association of Media Education Organizations (CAMEO), Channel One now rents almost 8 million young brains to advertisers each day and reports annual earnings of more than $100 million. FYI, Channel One has been banned in several states and is strongly opposed by the National Education Association, the largest Teachers Union in the U.S. CAMEO says at least by 41 national and provincial groups are opposed to YNN which has been pitching school deals since 1992.

Know, too, that the commercials served up by YNN are distinct from the usual fare on TV. These commercials are carefully and custom designed by creative teams including psychologists to hook the attention of teens and manipulate their behaviour.

Now, for the "great free" stuff. There's nothing free here. The computers and high-tech equipment, and the YNN "newscast" are merely the sugar cookie for an advertisers info-virus. Other widely sanctioned options for linking schools to the Information Highway include "Cable In The Classroom", "YTV", "CBC Newsworld" and "CNN Newsroom". And as for the computers, well, the jury is out on the educational benefit of classroom computers, according to many experts. Look no further than the West Van district, apparently the best-heeled district in the province vis-a-vis computers. Last year they reported computer use was mainly a frustrating, time and money-wasting experience.

See you at the meeting.