Channel One newscasts praised at two schools Commercial breaks upset some adults

September 16, 1992|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

The controversial Channel One news broadcasts may be raising the hackles of critics, but they are getting high marks from students at two Baltimore schools.

"I think they're good. We're learning about things that are happening in a fun way. They have people our age telling the news instead of adults," said Tia Hargrove, a Baltimore City College 10th-grader.

She said she'd give the broadcasts a grade of 90.

"I like it because it reaches out to people. It brings world events to the attention of people who don't watch the news. Instead of having to watch the news at home, you can watch it at school," said Javonnia Harvell, a Chinquapin Middle School eighth-grader.

She gave Channel One a 95.

The 12-minute daily broadcasts, which include four 30-second commercials, began airing in city high schools and middle schools this month. They are produced by Tennessee-based Whittle Communications, which provides the necessary video equipment to schools that agree to air the shows.

Critics -- including the National Educational Association, consumer activist Ralph Nader and Johns Hopkins University professor Mark Crispin Miller -- have denounced the broadcasts.

They contend that they commercialize an educational setting; take away from time better spent on basic skills and are trivial and biased.

City Councilman Carl Stokes, chairman of the Education and Human Resources Committee, said yesterday he planned to arrange for panel members to view Channel One along with students and teachers and follow those visits with a round table discussion on the broadcasts. "I'm very neutral. I want to know more about them," the 2nd District Democrat said.

A year ago, the city school board voted to let each school decide whether to show Channel One. Among 45 middle and high schools, only the Baltimore School for the Arts decided against airing the broadcasts. David Simon, director of the School for the Arts, said this week that he opposed Channel One because "I don't want a TV screen interposed between the teachers and the students."

"I don't care for TV. I think it's kind of a spectator thing," said Mr. Simon.

He added that he's had "a lot of people who called up and congratulated me" on his position.

But Joseph Antenson, principal of City College, yesterday dismissed criticisms of Channel One as "ridiculous," contending that "many people who are upset are upset in theory." He called the broadcasts "fabulous" and added: "With every news story, there's a map associated with it and history associated with it."

City College moved up the start of its school day five minutes this year and shortened the time given to morning announcements so the Channel One broadcasts, aired after the first-period class, wouldn't cut into instructional time, he said.

Yesterday, students in a 10th-grade City College class on world civilizations generally concurred with their principal's upbeat assessment before and after a broadcast in which youthful anchors and reporters delivered reports on hurricane damage in Hawaii, the opening of schools in hurricane-ravaged South Florida, a successful experiment on the fertilization of frogs eggs in outer space and refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"I think it's a good show. It's sort of like the evening news. It doesn't go into much detail. There are a lot of sound bites. If you want to know about world events in any event, you have to read a newspaper or magazine," said Gilad Foss. He gave Channel One an 80.

Some students said the commercials for candy, fast food and acne medication were repetitive and off-putting but they said they didn't pay much attention to them. "I just don't watch them," said Christopher Kess, who gave the shows a 95.

Another student, Eve Israel, said a Channel One report last week on eating disorders encouraged her to discuss anorexia with her mother. Social studies teacher Sharon Greensfelder said she used the same program as a springboard for discussion on her course in women's studies.

"I'm pleasantly surprised. It's better than I thought it would be. I thought it would be more glitzy," Ms. Greensfelder said.

She criticized the newscasters for at times acting "too cute" and using slang but said, "I'm very impressed with the maps and how they explain things."

She gave the broadcasts a 90.

Last week, a group of Chinquapin eighth-graders had a generally positive reaction to the Channel One broadcasts.

"This news is much better than the local TV news. It's for teens. It doesn't give you destructive things like crime first," said Veronica Lockett.

Gregory Lewis said his biggest complaints were that "commercials are there" and the broadcasts "need to be longer."

He gave Channel One an 80 or 85.

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