When Ted Turner began “CNN Newsroom” for students in public schools nationwide, he didn’t do it to make a profit.
But Turner no longer oversees CNN, and the programnow called “CNN Student News” soon will air paid sponsorships.
The sponsorships are part of a renewed push by CNN parent company AOL Time Warner to profit from money-losing operations that are part of the corporation’s Turner Learning unit. “CNN Student News” is broadcast at 4:30 a.m. for teachers in 18,000 schools to tape and use later for classroom instruction. It is aimed at middle and high school students.
Turner officials always believed that making students familiar with CNN would broaden the network’s audience in the future. Now, a central goal will be to convince children to watch CNN when they grow up.
“We want to be a brand builder for the network,” Turner Learning spokesman Mitch Leff said.
The future of Turner Learning itself has been in doubt. AOL Time Warner, like other media companies, has been under budget pressures.
The sponsorships for “CNN Student News” will not be regular commercials. They will be limited to the sponsor’s name, logo, and mention of each one’s educational initiative or product, Leff said.
“We are being very careful about this because credibility is very important,” he said.
Leff said sponsors will not influence news content and their money will be used to fund improvements in the program. No sponsors have signed up yet.
Kathryn Montgomery, president of the nonprofit Center for Media Education, said she is concerned that the sponsorships might lead to full-fledged commericals.
“If they can do this, they will go further,” Montgomery said. “The issue here is the sanctity of the classrooms, and where we draw the lines in terms of commercialism.”
Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, said the sponsorships will be a minor corporate presence compared with the commercial logos on students’ clothing. For that reason, they should not be much of an issue, she said.