Newspaper sales are declining. Even worse, the tender young things
in our schools and nurseries are on a diet so rich in computers and TV
that leafing through the Sunday papers or poring over the sports pages
are threatening to become a thing of the past. Which is why newspapers
are fighting back for children’s attention. At first, this was a sedate
war, waged with a token puzzle or two. But now fierce competition has
provoked an arsenal of initiatives that runs from the hi-tech to the
high risk - most of them taking newsprint where newsprint has never gone
Aralynn McMane, director of educational programmes at the World
Association of Newspapers, says these initiatives fall roughly into five
major groups, all of which were explored in a conference held in Paris
earlier this month.
First come the publications that are aimed at children. Strangely, these
are still rare in Europe, except for France where there are three daily
papers targeting young people. Le Petit Quotidien is aimed at six- to
nine-year-olds; Mon Quotidien targets ten- to 15-year-olds; and L’Actu
caters for 14- to 18-year-olds. All three are subscription only,
according to their publisher, Playback, and all are designed to be read
in only ten minutes.
Wolfgang Lund at Playback says L’Actu has a circulation of 15,000 with
the other two papers at about 50,000 each. He adds that the secret when
dealing with children is not just to rehash grown-up news, but to focus
on what each age group likes and spice it up with illustrations.
Advertising is restricted to one advertiser per issue, and ads must be
informative and entertaining.
In most countries, however, children have to make do with special pages
or sections in adult newspapers. Even worse, according to George Kelly
from the specialist consultancy, Creative Media Concepts, these sections
aren’t treated by newspapers with the seriousness that they deserve.
They rarely commission research on the readership of their children’s
supplements, he says. And, because of the sensitivities surrounding
advertising to children, they also don’t prioritise selling ad space
One publication that has taken children very seriously is the UK’s Daily
Telegraph. This March, it ditched its Saturday supplement, Young
Telegraph, aimed at eight- to 12-year-olds, and launched T2 in its
place. Aimed at ten- to 16-year-olds, T2 is a 16-page tabloid in its own
right, and does not restrict itself to so-called teen issues like music
or videos. T2’s editor, Kitty Melrose, heads a permanent staff of eight
people who cover the week’s stories - some of them on adult topics, like
the Turkish earthquake, and others designed just for teens. She is
enthusiastic about the future of the concept over here: ’I think you
could have a standalone newspaper for teenagers in the UK - it’s a
definite gap in the market.’
The internet is another way in which newspapers are trying to stimulate
young readers’ interest. The Danish Newspaper Publishing Association,
for example, has created a website to help children understand what a
newspaper is about. ’Newspapers are like poetry,’ Kirsten Rantorp, the
association’s administrator, says. ’When you first ask children to read
poetry, they are a little scared. But if you talk about poetry, explain
it to them, and then maybe get them to write some themselves, they are
much more enthusiastic.’
Taking this a step further, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, has
developed a virtual newsroom, called a Mediarium, where children can
experience being a journalist.
Each child selects a story to work on - sports, finance, foreign
affairs, etc. Then each student is led by computer through the process
of formulating the story. If you’d selected ’foreign news’, for example,
you might begin with a computer briefing on the problem, and the
computer will help you decide what to do next. If it is to call the
foreign minister, the computer will direct you to a phone where you can
hear a recorded message of how the conversation might have gone. And
while the children are working on their own stories, news of a big train
crash comes in, and everyone has to drop what they are doing and help -
like in a real newsroom.
The school, of course, figures highly in newspapers’ attempts to woo
young readers for the obvious reason that this is where children spend a
lot of their time.
Around 40 countries have organisations devoted solely to promoting
initiatives in schools. What happens in each country, however, varies
wildly according to its wealth and culture. In poorer nations, such as
Estonia, newspapers take the place of text books, while in richer school
systems, like the Netherlands and Austria, free newspapers are offered
for a period so that they can be used as part of the lessons.
Ultimately, experts stress that whatever newspapers do, they must be
interesting to young readers. Indeed, some publishers have taken the
view that no-one knows what children like more than the kids themselves.
Thus several have begun newspapers that are written and edited by young
people themselves or after consultation with them. Austria’s Megascene,
for example, has been going for more than 18 months, while Denmark has
its equivalent in Borneavisen. Gerda Schaffelhoffer, the co-ordinator of
Austria’s education in schools group, ZIS, observes: ’Children are the
only ones who know what their peer group wants to read. In my opinion,
all other editors are too old.’