When the Corporation for Public Broadcasting invited grant proposals for educational Web sites for kids, KCTS responded. The staff at Seattle Public Television brainstormed ideas and ultimately created the successful “Don’t Buy It: Get Media Smart!” Web site, now housed at PBSKids.org.

The site, aimed especially at ages 8-12, offers games, quizzes and other interactive features to help children improve their media literacy.

“We wanted to produce a site that is fun and educational,” said Stefanie Malone, content manager for the site, in an e-mail. “We considered the impact of media on today’s kids. Much of the advertising that aligns itself in and around television, movies and music is aimed at this age group.”

“We knew that advertisers are targeting kids at younger and younger ages, and that this effort has a multi-million dollar price tag,” she continued. “Considering this, we wanted to help arm kids with the tools necessary to understand and evaluate the media messages they consume on a daily basis. I knew there were not a lot of Web sites aimed at children on the subject of media literacy. So, we knew we would be filling an underserved need.”

KCTS formed a creative team that included staffers from its interactive and educational outreach departments. They put together an advisory group headed by Faith Rogow, president of the Alliance for a Media Literate America. And they conducted focus groups on children to improve the relevancy and interactivity of the site.

Production on Don’t Buy It began in December 2001, though the team had been researching and planning well before that date, said Drew Ringo, the site’s project manager, in an e-mail. The site launched April 15, 2002, and the response has been “tremendous,” according to Malone.

“The site has become one of, if not the, premiere resources on the Web for media literacy for tweens,” she said. It has received more than 4 million page views from more than 1 million visitors. It has also been recognized for its achievement by a number of organizations, including the American Library Association and Utne Reader magazine.

The team at KCTS plans to add to the site as well.

“We have currently received a grant from PBS to add some additional games and applications and make some improvements to the site,” she said. “We are attempting to create content that is long-lasting, educational, and even more ‘game like.'”

Ringo said the KCTS team is excited about the additions.

“It will launch at the beginning of September and will be featured on the PBSKIDS.ORG home page, featured for the new school year,” he said.

With kudos coming in from many quarters, Malone and team have much to be happy about. She is most pleased, however, with kids’ reaction to the site.

“Through focus groups, we discovered that kids found the content engaging and fun,” she said. “Children could also demonstrate information that they learned from Don’t Buy It. To me, this means that we are accomplishing our goal of creating media literate youth.”

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

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