Academic Exchange Quarterly Fall 2006 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 10, Issue 3
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Channel One and Effectiveness of Media Literacy
Erica W. Austin,
Bruce E. Pinkleton,
Rebecca Van de Vord, Michelle Arganbright, Yi-Chun
Erica W. Austin, Ph.D. and Bruce
E. Pinkleton, Ph.D. are Professors in the
A field experiment (N=239) with randomized assignment of 15 seventh- and eighth-grade classes to one of three media literacy lesson conditions (logic, affect-added and control) and random mixing of classes to the extent possible was used to evaluate a media literacy lesson. The findings of this study confirm that personal experience with media affects students’ reactions to lessons about the media.
Educators increasingly propose that our media-saturated society makes it necessary to expand views of literacy beyond traditional reading and writing. Literacy now also requires the ability to read visual messages and interpret the subtexts of messages communicated through media. Generally, media literacy curricula aim to inform youngsters and allow participants to become more active message consumers (Brown, 1998). Researchers and educators have used media literacy programs to increase teens’ knowledge, skepticism toward media messages, and critical thinking regarding media, and to change beliefs about health issues such as disordered eating and tobacco use (Irving, DuPen & Berel, 1998; Levine, Piran & Stoddard, 1999; Austin, Pinkleton, Hust, & Cohen, 2005). Many scholars view media literacy as a basic health communication tool, due to established links between youth’s media usage and health risks such as obesity, sexual activity, and drug or alcohol use (Austin & Knaus, 2000; Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004; Roberts, Henriksen, Christenson, Kelly, Carbone, & Wilson, 1999).
Despite broad recognition of media literacy’s importance, however, its systematic incorporation into schools remains in its infancy. One reason is the dearth of empirical evaluations of the benefits and outcomes of media literacy lessons, including its applicability across differences in culture, media use orientations and pre-existing knowledge. This study therefore examines whether media literacy education results differ among middle-school students depending on their existing attitudes toward media use. It pursues this issue in an especially relevant context, by addressing the costs and benefits of using a controversial, commercially based public affairs program in schools.
Channel One and Media Literacy
An often-criticized public affairs program widely used by schools nationwide provides a useful context for examining these theoretical questions in a realistic situation. The Channel One news program, produced by Primedia, Inc., is shown in 12,000 schools across the country reaching an audience of 8,000,000 teens (Primedia, 2004). Each Channel One segment includes 10 minutes of news, specifically constructed for teens, and two minutes of advertising. Research indicates that the advertisements carried on Channel One are persuasive (Infante, 2003; Palmer & Carpenter, 2006) and scholars have expressed concerns that students who see commercials in a school setting may consider them more credible than commercials they view at home (Wartella, 1995; Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2003; Brighouse, 2005a ). Watching advertising also increased children’s levels of materialism (Buijzen & Valkenburg, 2003b).They even remembered more ads than news on Channel One and reportedly purchased at least 2.5 items advertised (Austin, Chen, Pinkleton, & Johnson, 2006).
In a survey of students who had viewed Channel One, Bachen (1998a) noted that about one third of students believed that seeing the commercials on Channel One made them want to go out and buy the advertised products, and just over 20% of participants stated that they often followed through on that impulse. Research by Greenberg and Brand (1993) also found that students who viewed Channel One commercials evaluated the advertised products more highly and indicated a stronger intent to purchase advertised products than did students who had not seen the advertisements.
Given the lack of research concerning key outcomes potentially associated with media literacy, the purpose of this study was to assess the influence of adolescents’ attitudes toward media on media literacy lesson outcomes.
Because the Channel One program may have real benefits and real costs for students, the program provides an ideal focus for examining the extent to which media literacy training can enhance the benefits and diminish the risks associated with use of the program in schools.
Researchers conducted a field experiment using randomized assignment of multiple class sections to one of three conditions (logic-based lessons alone, logic-based lessons with affect-added, and a control condition) at a middle school in the Northwest from March 10 to 12, 2004. When more than one class met in a single time period, students were randomly assigned to a condition to reduce the potential for teacher-specific effects. Participants were 239 students in the seventh grade (n=114) and eighth grade (n=118), with the remaining students declining to reveal their grade level. The sample included approximately 48.1% boys (n=115) and 50.2% girls (n=120); four students did not indicate a gender. White students comprised a majority of the ethnic representation, (70.7%), followed by Asian students (15.5%), Latino students (6.7%), Native American or Alaskan students (6.7%), African American students (5.9%) and students of other origins (11.3%). Approximately 46% of the students considered themselves from the middle income families. Of the remaining students, 21.3% of the students reported high income, 4.6% reported low income, 3.8% reported very low income and 2.5% reported very high income.
The Media Literacy Curriculum
The media literacy curriculum was developed by six graduate students based on existing media literacy curriculum resources. Researchers developed two different types of lessons to determine whether lesson effectiveness could be generalized across delivery styles. Both lessons provided a foundation of facts, figures and demonstrations to promote a logical understanding of the media and advertisers among participants. In addition, one set of lessons included examples and statements intended to increase participants’ emotive responses in the form of anger toward advertisers for taking advantage of adolescents.
With a specific focus on Channel One, the lessons taught the following five concepts of media literacy: All media messages are constructed; media messages are made using a creative language with its own rules; different people experience the same media differently; media producers have values and points of view; and media messages are constructed to achieve a purpose (Center for Media Literacy, 2003). Lesson content was drawn from sources such as AdSmartsã Module A (Graham & Hernandez, 1993), Creating Critical Viewers (Singer & Singer, 1998), Teaching Young Teens Media Literacy (DeGaetano & Bander, 1996), Teens, Tobacco & Media (Teen Futures Media Network, 2001), and the Media Literacy Kit (Center for Media Literacy, 2003).
Students in the control condition completed surveys prior to receiving a media literacy lesson. Students in the two conditions that received lessons completed the survey after participating in a media literacy lesson. Eight trained graduate students led the lessons, including two men and six women. Control-group and experimental-group questionnaires were identical except that the experimental version included a manipulation check to measure participants’ knowledge of media practices and assess their perceived usefulness of the media literacy lesson.
Knowledge about Channel One and the media. Researchers used three true-false questions to measure media knowledge: “Schools have to supply their own equipment to show Channel One” (false); “Everybody experiences media messages the same way” (false); and “Children 2-17 spend an average of 6-1/2 hours with media each day (true). The mean score (range 1-3) was 1.60.
Consumerism. Two questions were adapted from Greenberg & Brand (1993) to assess participants’ attitudes toward consumerism. The questions employed 7-point scales with strongly agree and strongly disagree as anchors, as follows: “When I watch commercials, I want what is shown” and “People who have a lot of money are happier than people who have only a little money.”
Interest in ads. One question measured participants’ affect toward advertising using a 7-point scale with strongly agree and strongly disagree as anchors: “The commercials on Channel One are more interesting than other commercials I see.”
Skepticism toward ads. One question measured participants’ skepticism toward advertising using a 7-point scale with strongly agree and strongly disagree as anchors: “Advertisers try to take advantage of teens.”
Orientation toward use of media genres. Participants indicated how important or unimportant different media were to them using a 7-point scale with very important and not at all important as anchors. The items were based on findings regarding the value of media importance measures as opposed to media use frequency measures which research indicates are less useful as indicators of the role of media in decision making (Pinkleton & Austin, 2002). The types of media analyzed included TV news, reality shows, Channel One, newspapers and magazines.
Perceived Usefulness of Channel One. Participants indicated their perceptions of the usefulness of Channel One by answering the following questions using 7-point scales with strongly agree and strongly disagree as anchors: “I think my school should continue to show Channel One,” “Channel One helps me find out what other teens are thinking,” “I like Channel One,” and “Channel One tells me things I need to know.” The posttest alpha for the index was .89.
Reflective thinking. To measure the degree to which they engage in critical thinking, participants answered the following questions using 7-point scales with strongly agree and strongly disagree as anchors: “It’s worth my time to consider the truthfulness of advertising messages,” “It’s interesting to think about the purpose behind a message I see in the media,” “It’s interesting to think about what the creator of a media message wants me to believe,” and “When I see a media message, I think about who created it.” The posttest alpha for the index was .71.
Public affairs knowledge. Researchers used
these questions as a control in the regression analysis. These items included the number of correct
answers to the following questions: “Who is the president of the
To assess the influence of media use patterns on lesson outcomes, researchers ran multiple regression equations. Initially, main effects for media importance measures were entered into the equation along with pre-existing knowledge about public affairs and a dichotomous variable representing participation in the media literacy lesson. This was followed by a block in which researchers entered interactions of lesson and media importance if they were significant according to the stepwise procedure. Finally, researchers ran a reduced model that included significant main effects, main effects for interactions and significant interactions.
The results indicated a common effect of television news importance for outcomes of reflective thinking (Beta=-.32, p<.01) and usefulness (Beta=-.33, p<.001) of Channel One. In each case, students participating in the lesson who considered television news of little importance to their lives reported higher levels than control group participants on the outcomes. Participating students who considered television news of great importance reported lower levels than control group participants on the outcomes. There also was an effect of reality television importance for the consumer-based belief that money makes people happier (Beta=-.37, p<01). For media literacy participants who considered reality television important, media literacy training helped reduce their beliefs that money makes people happier.
Participants who considered reality TV unimportant had higher levels of learning about media, while reality TV enthusiasts learned less. The importance of magazines also had an impact on the lesson outcome of interest in advertising. For the belief that Channel One ads are interesting, participants who were magazine enthusiasts had markedly higher levels of interest in ads, while participants who considered magazines unimportant had somewhat lower levels of interest in ads (Beta=.36, p<.01). Lesson participants who considered newspapers unimportant showed a higher level of belief that advertisers try to take advantage of teens than did control group participants (Beta=-.32, p<.001).
Finally, for the outcome belief that advertisers try to take advantage of teenagers, participants for whom Channel One was of little importance showed a less marked increase in this belief than did participants who considered Channel One of high importance (Beta=.24, p<.001).
In sum, the results of the lessons differed depending on the media use patterns of students, for nearly all of the outcome measures. Indeed, for the outcomes of reflective thinking, consumerism, and interest in ads, this analysis showed effects that would have been masked by an ANOVA analysis that accounted only for a main effect of lesson condition without acknowledging the role of media orientations.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate a media literacy lesson with respect to students’ pre-existing orientations toward relevant media genres. The results confirmed that many outcomes were associated with pre-existing media use patterns, suggesting that media literacy education could be strengthened by taking these individual differences into account. The most consistent results emerged for perceived importance of television news and for reality television programming, both of which students rated as among the least important types of media. Other genres and modalities that affected lesson outcomes included Channel One, magazines, and newspapers.
Reflective thinking and perceived usefulness of Channel One were higher among lesson participants relatively uninterested in television news as compared with the control group. Similarly, the belief that money begets happiness was lower in the experimental group for high reality television consumers than in the control group. The lesson appeared to have a striking effect on consumer-based expectancies. The belief that money associates with happiness, for example, was much lower in the experimental group for those who placed high importance on reality television, whereas scores remained low and flat between the control and experimental groups for those placing low importance on reality television.
The results overall suggest that those who place a high value on Channel One already focus more on the news than on the supporting advertising messages, while those who value reality programming gravitate toward the ads. That the lesson produced such a dramatic change in materialistic beliefs among the less involved viewers is a highly promising result for advocates of the program even while it reinforces the concerns of its detractors. It provides strong support for the views of Bachen (1998b) and of McDevitt & Chaffee (1998) that discussion of public affairs curricula is critical for ensuring beneficial effects. It appears that media literacy-related discussion is especially important for lessons that incorporate commercial programming.
The lesson also had important effects on the belief that advertisers try to take advantage of teens. This effect was particularly marked for participants uninterested in newspapers, and was more pronounced among those who considered Channel One of greater importance. Again this suggests that media literacy education can enable more critical viewing of commercial programming. It appears to do so without affecting perceptions of the usefulness of the primary content. Reflective thinking benefited from the lesson only for less dedicated consumers of television news.
The results of this study suggest a number of avenues for future research. First, studies should test for developmental differences in lesson results. It also would be valuable to test the differential impact of other lesson delivery strategies, such as the use of text-based vs. visual-based material.
In conclusion, the results suggest that personal experience affects students’ reactions to lessons about the media. Further, the results indicate that students are far more likely to discern the mass media messages and understand the purpose of them, particularly the persuasive intents of advertising, after the implementation of media literacy lessons. As students become more critical consumer of media, advertising effects and materialism may be diminished. An improved understanding of media impact and of useful interventions should provide a valuable tool for both political socialization and health promotion.
We recognized the importance of updating research investigating the effects of Channel One have on children. We searched a variety of academic databases, including Social Science Index, PsychInfo, and ComAbstract. In general, the majority of recent literature primarily focuses on the ethical concerns of broadcasting advertising in classroom settings. Studies often asked whether advertising affects children’s increased materialism or parent-child conflicts. We added current studies exploring the ethical concerns and materialistic values of advertising, such as those placed on Channel One, and the effectiveness of media literacy curricula. In our updated literature, however, specific effects of Channel One programming have on children were rarely investigated through experimental design or field survey in recent publications except for Austin, Chen, Pinkleton, and Johnson (2006).
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