Money and the Rainbow

reading_rainbow

This week, LaVar Burton aka Geordi La Forge, used the internet as a force of good and brought one of the greatest PBS shows ever to grace the airways back from the dead. Reading Rainbow is alive once again. But it’s not getting rebooted as a television show, instead it’s kicking over to the tablet and computer screen as a paid app service and some people think that this is a questionable move.

Reading Rainbow was the well-loved PBS television show that served as an afternoon escape for millions of kids. The program featured different books that children should be hip to in a time before there was the internet. There was no Good Reads to tell us what we should pick up. There was only LaVar and the rainbow seal on the books to let you know that this book was certified enjoyable.

The program was never about learning to read, that’s one. It wasn’t a teaching tool. It was exposing children to books that were exciting and different so that they would read. This wasn’t Sesame Street, this wasn’t about fundamentals. This was the advanced world of words. You’ve already been hooked on phonics, Reading Rainbow showed you what you could do with it.

Which was really another great thing that the series did, the books weren’t always educational. What kids get in school are a lot of classics, stories that teach something or other but not much in the way of just being a good story. Reading Rainbow had its share of work that taught some process, skill, or life lesson but it also featured many works that were just good stories.

Now, in today’s world where kids can most defiantly read, the still suffer from the same problem, they don’t read. Sure they may pick up Harry Potter but outside of that, children aren’t really exploring the world of books as much as they should. The world is increasingly digital and the Reading Rainbow app is an answer to this.

But it’s not free and that is a point of contention. The original show aired on PBS and was available for all children who had a TV. The reboot, so to speak isn’t only available over the internet and behind a pay-wall which seems troubling for a company that is promoting a tool to help all kids and not just those who have mommies and daddies that can afford to purchase them.

But Reading Rainbow wasn’t really free. For the majority of people, of course they didn’t see a charge for it but it aired on PBS which at the end every episode of every show lets the posts the message, “This program made possible by *list of sponsors* and people like you.”

That wasn’t a feel good message tacked on at the end to make people feel included. That was actually how PBS was funded. It’s why they were always holding telethons. PBS and therefore Reading Rainbow has always been funded by the people.

This round of programing has just brought that same aspect into the 21st century. Instead of a line of phones, it’s been put out on the telethon of today: Kickstarter. And it’s done amazingly well but it’s only a beginning.

The reality of this is that the operation will need more than a million dollars to run indefinitely. There are servers to maintain, developers that will need to be paid, new content that will need to be created. PBS has telethons constantly and there’s a reason for that. These things cost money to keep going. A million dollars seems like a lot, it is a lot, but for the scope of this project, a million dollars is just a start.

This project will need funds that go beyond crowdfunding and they will need a way to get them. Namely, they will need to generate income somehow. I’d rather pay an entrance fee than have my kids subjected to ads every 30 seconds.

Then there’s the fact that they are a for profit company now rather than a nonprofit. Here’s the thing about that, the only difference between nonprofit and for profit is what they pay in taxes. Just because a company has to meet a bottom line doesn’t make it a bad company.

There’s a lot of freeware out there aimed at helping children develop reading skills. Some of it’s good but most of it is not so good. Reading Rainbow is a tried and true brand that does something no other program does. It promotes literacy for the sake of literacy. And if that’s not worth throwing money at, then I don’t know what is.

 

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