Producing news for children is just as important as doing so for adults.
In a recent ICFJ Pamela Howard Forum on Global Crisis Reporting webinar, “News for kids: what it can teach us,” editors who produce news for children from publications in the U.S., the Netherlands, Singapore and Honduras discussed their methods for engaging and informing young people on the news.
“I think that there are lessons that we've learned producing a children's newspaper that can be applied for all news platforms, for all ages,” said Russ Kahn, editor-in-chief of News-o-Matic.
In addition to Kahn, Carlos Echeverri, editor and publisher of Mi Primer Diario (My First Newspaper, in English), Henrike van Gelder, editor-in-chief of Kidsweek, Serene Luo, schools editor for The Straits Times and Dr. Aralynn Abara McMane, president of Global Youth & News Media, shared their insights on producing news for young people.
The panel discussed tips for appealing to young people and including them in the journalistic process:
News formats should be as visually appealing as possible to children. Kahn emphasized making news for young people visual above all else to create an immersive experience that draws kids into stories. With more access to tablets and other technology, young people also expect more multimedia in content designed for them. “I think the days of sharing an article with a single picture, those days are long gone, at least if we want to really, truly engage students,” Kahn said.
The Straits Times children’s publication, “Little Red Dot,” seeks to begin conversations about civic engagement early through formats like comics and illustrations. Luo sees it as a way to encourage young people to engage with valuable information through entertainment. “It's almost like parents hiding the broccoli and carrots in the mashed potatoes and the hamburgers,” she said.
Echeverri explained that each page or screen must be a strong experience for readers. Echeverri publishes “My First Newspaper” for children in nine countries, including one in Honduras, “Mi Primer Diario.” Mi Primer Diario is particularly valuable for young readers in Honduras because of poor access to books and libraries in the country, Echeverri said.
Take a solutions journalism approach
Journalists should also emphasize solutions in their reporting for young people. “Solutions journalism puts the emphasis on solid, rigorous journalist inquiry into possible solutions to a problem rather than just reporting about the problem itself,” McMane explained.
One way to incorporate solutions is to include an action perspective, van Gelder said. “If you’re really worried about the climate, really worried about things that happen in the world, this is what you can do,” van Gelder explained as an example.
Finding ways to include children as a part of the solution to a news story is another important part of engagement, encouraging young people to take part in addressing a problem they read. “I think it’s really important to give a glimmer of hope of a bright spot at the end of an article,” van Gelder explained. Van Gelder’s publications, Kidsweek and Samsam, try to have a bright spot with each article, although it can be difficult.
The Little Red Dot includes activity box prompts, for example, to get kids thinking critically about what they could donate for certain issues.
Connect with educators to improve media knowledge
Editors also emphasized connecting with teachers and schools to distribute news and educate students about journalism. “The teachers are our main allies, our main partners to put the newspaper into the school,” Echeverri explained about distributing Mi Primer Diario in Honduras.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Luo said the Little Red Dot held a face-to-face outreach program called the” Little Red Dot Pop-up Newsroom” which would visit schools. Activities included choosing photos for a front page newspaper story, and at the end, students received a press pass with their photo.
Explain relevant news to kids
Van Gelder underscored the importance of speaking with experts on topics to explain issues in a simpler way for kids, even though you might thoroughly understand the topic yourself. Experts have more authority to explain the topic in children’s language.
The relevance of news is also key to connecting with children. Luo explained that fostering engagement with young people requires choosing the correct topics that will resonate with kids. Echeverri said a real connection with the community is the essence of success, also explaining ways to build trust, like handing out newspapers at school or partnering with local food establishments like Burger King to distribute news.
The editors concluded by emphasizing the importance of reporting designed for young people. “Don’t forget about the kids,” Kahn said, emphasizing that news is not only for grown-ups.
Luo echoed Kahn’s point, saying kids are interested in the news, and willing to read it. “You just have to make time, space and things relevant for them,” Luo said.