Youth News Network: They're back!

In the early 1990's the Youth News Network (YNN) tried to sell a program whereby they would give high schools free television sets and VCRs in exchange for all of the students watching a daily 12.5 minute news broadcast. This news program, written for and aimed at teenagers, would contain 2.5 minutes of commercials and 10 minutes of news. All of the students in the school had to watch the daily broadcast during their instructional day; that is, when they were in the classroom and supervised by their teachers. From coast to coast, the program and its inherent concept of a guaranteed teenaged market delivered straight to the advertisers, was defeated by groups of educators and parents. But YNN, now in association with Aethena Educational Partners is back, with what looks like a sweeter deal, but the same basic concept. YNN and Aethena have sent a promotional package to over 2300 highs schools across Canada.

The list of free equipment is longer. Today's list includes: computers, an Ethernet network, a satellite dish, television sets, and VCRs. But according to the contract between a school and YNN, this equipment remains the property of YNN. As well, YNN has the right to use this equipment, after school, for their own profit making activities. There are several other clauses in the YNN contract that further define and delineate who can do what with this equipment.

In today's education world of cut backs, budget cuts, claw backs, and fewer resources; the offer of free technology equipment sounds like a real gift. Here is a comparison of the offer versus needs in my school board.

Ethernet network: The schools are already ethernetted. We do not need a network.

Satellite dish: they give you the dish but you have to pay for service to get stations other then YNN. The schools cannot afford the cost of this service. Cable in the Classroom provides video resources free of charge.

TVs: We do not need a TV in every classroom of the school as not all of the classrooms are used all of the time nor are they always used for the same type of pedagogical activity.

VCR: not every TV they give you comes with a VCR. So you will still have to have, or buy, VCRs and figure out a way to connect these VCRs to TVs that are suspended from classroom ceilings.

Computers in a lab: Our school board is moving away from the computer lab model towards a model where the computers are in the classrooms for "teachable moment" teaching and learning. We are moving the traditional labs into the libraries where they can be used by the students for their own personal work.

Other contractual clauses between YNN and the school include:

1. During the daily broadcasts, YNN sets and monitors the volume level of each television in the school that is supposed to be on and broadcasting the news program and its commercials.

2. YNN lists various statistics and numerical data the school must provide the company; statistics such as enrollment figures, number of days of school minus pedagogical days, exam days and holidays.

3. YNN determines how many TVs and computers the school will receive.

One of the past and current arguments against YNN is based on the fact that the advertising targets teenagers, is delivered on school property and during instructional time, ie. the 2.5 minutes of commercials. The argument is that the school is selling the students as consumers, to the advertisers, in exchange for technology.

Another argument against YNN is based on the fact that for those compulsory, daily 12.5 minutes of viewing time within classroom instructional time, it is anonymous writers and broadcasters, and not educators, who have decided and decreed what will be viewed, discussed and therefore taught to students. This will happen regardless of whether or not the news stories are congruent with curriculum.

YNN says that there will be a national advisory council made up of educators, parents and students who will provide guidance and feedback on the news stories, advertising and general policies and ethics of the broadcasts. However,

1. if the council is made up of people from across the country; 2. if the council is to comment on every news story and advertisement; 3. if these broadcasts are put together on a daily basis so as to be timely and informative for their audience: 4. how will there be time for everyone on the council to view the material, comment on it, see their comments incorporated into a finished product, and then view and approve the finished product for broadcast the next day?

CAMEO ( Canadian Association of Media Education Organisations) has been spearheading a national campaign against YNN. The following web site is an ongoing summation of what has been done across Canada. Some of you may find some of the language a little strident, but for those interested in the history of this fight between YNN and Canadian educators, I suggest a visit to the web site. Should you be in the midst of a discussion on YNN, the site offers many arguments and strategies for positioning your organisation on YNN.

The YNN story is long, complicated, and filled with decision points about ethics, pedagogy, and priorities. This article merely touches on some of these. I invite you to visit the web site, examine the YNN promotional package, view the sample broadcast, and visit the YNN web site. See what it is all about and make up your own mind before your high school is brought to you by ----------------- (pick any name of any company)

Please be advised that we authorize John Pungente or his agent, to reprint in whole or in part, the article, Youth News Network: They're Back! by Maureen Baron, published in the April issue of the AMTEC Media News Vol. 26 No. 3.

Gary Karlsen
AMTEC Media News