Trends in Newsrooms 3: New life for kids’ editions

Australia’s printed weekly for children, Crinkling News, has shown that the public is ready to support print for kids, and also how tricky it is to make such a publication work financially. Meanwhile, a one-off New York Times insert is a hit with readers.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | May 18, 2017

Crinkling News has succeeded in a gamble that, within two just weeks, Australians would come up with $AU 200,000 (about €133,000 or $US 148,000) in support to avoid the paper’s shut-down.

On a smaller scale, the effort echoes the strategy of the digital giants, who first built an audience, then monetized it.

What Crinkling News did was build big loyalty among its young readers and their parents.

To launch the weekly, editor Saffron Howden and her designer husband, Remi Bianchi, used the money they received when Sydney Morning Herald cut more than 1000 jobs to support a digital-first strategy.

“We’ve showed there’s a market for this,” Howden told The Guardian. “We’ve showed that it’s worked and it’s wanted. It took [she and her husband] a year of blood, sweat and tears to do it, and we haven’t had a lot of time to sit around having meetings with people…”

After nearly a year of publishing with a 60 percent subscription renewal rate, they found it necessary to launch an all-or-nothing crowd-funding appeal in early May for $AU200,000 (about €133,000 or $US 148,000). The deadline was just two weeks later.

Readers made videos in support and also offered their pocket money (politely refused), and the effort attracted considerable social network and media attention, including on the main national news broadcast. Howden reports that during a presentation to a parliamentary hearing on public interest journalism, 24 hours before the deadline, ‘the lawmakers were donating during the session.”   Eight hours before deadline, they reached the goal.

Howden says that approach was deliberate to avoid arriving at the same point once again.

“If you’re putting out a weekly paper, that deadline takes priority every week,” Howden told The Guardian.  “What we haven’t been doing is flying around the country, speaking to every potential investor. We’ve had a number of conversations with a number of people over the past year but we haven’t been able to put a lot energy into that.”

Supporting the original business model – a mix of paid subscribers and display advertising – will be a priority. That means hiring expertise in marketing and in systematically approaching schools (of which 10 percent already use Crinkling News) and private interests to follow up on the limited amount of canvassing they managed to do in the first year.

“Now we get back to the work of bringing the news to our young readers around the country every week,” Howden told WAN-IFRA. “And we start immediately on putting the money raised towards bringing new expertise into the business so we can reach sustainability and keep publishing Crinkling News into the future.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times found that an old model, the insert, resonates with its readers.

It produced a one-off insert for the Sunday edition on 14 May with content that focused on solutions ranging from the serious to the silly: how to write a newspaper story, how to win an argument with parents, how to make slime, how to bake a chocolate chip cookie pizza, how to win a spelling bee, how to design a superhero, how to make a modern paper airplane, and how to create a crossword puzzle. (Image ©NY Times)

The response was “tremendous,” according to Caitlin Roper, special projects editor at The New York Times Magazine, who spearheaded the effort. “We’ve received hundreds of messages and, the best part, amazing photos of young kids poring over the kids section, reading the opinion page, baking the cookie pizza recipe, drawing their own superheroes, making slime, and keeping their parents away, owning the section for themselves, she told WAN-IFRA.

“Parents are thrilled to see their kid so engaged by the newspaper. We’ve had an avalanche of requests to make the section a recurring feature in the Sunday paper -there’s even a petition to make the kid section weekly!”

Both experiences exhibit some of the traits shared by the new breed of successful news products for children. (Read more about how that is working in several countries as part of our special report series, News Literacy and News Publishers: 7 ways forward to help young audiences fight fake news and do much, much more, commissioned by the American Press Institute.)

Those core traits are:

  • providing real news with a general bent towards solutions journalism and a special talent for dealing with horrific events.

  • a very interactive and regular relationship with their young audiences, who sometimes even have a say in what’s published.

  • readers who have developed a surprising loyalty to print.

  • a business plan that calls for separate subscriptions targeting grandparents and parents, many of whom are worried about the massive amounts of time their offspring are spending with screens.

Sometimes the business model works perfectly. That’s the case for the UK’s newest news product for the young, The Week Junior , a children’s version of the 22-year-old newsmagazine The Week, which is making its owners very happy.

“We have 34,000 weekly subscribers now reading the magazine, having launched in November 2015,” says publisher Kerwin O’Connor. “It’s growing about two and a half times faster than The Week ever did – an average increase of 539 subscribers a week. It’s a little miracle of a publication with renewal rates better than anything else we publish here.”

He sees the growth as a “wonderful paradox.”

“As the world obsesses about digital and platforms, the youngest media users are reading ink on paper,” O’Connor says. “Books and publications for children have never been better in quality, range and production.”

And, as do his counterparts around the world (see also the WAN-IFRA-API report), it is the journalism that keeps the young audience, and especially its benefactors, coming back. “We target parents and grandparents for subscriptions, but the success is down to the quality of the writing,” he says. “Word of mouth and parent acceptance that your product is safe and informative is extremely important. No parent will advocate a publication that they don’t feel is age appropriate. As children age, parents censor less mainstream news but sub 10 years there is still parental management of news.”

However, The Week Junior does not rely on news in print alone. “We have 50,000 followers on Popjam ( a social network for children under 12),” he says. “This is a moderated and safe channel where we can share stories and information with our readers.” Also, even before subscribing, people can watch a video that explains the newsmaking process. [Video 00:01:35]

Other times, however, business models fit only the home country.

Play Bac Press has survived more than 20 years with an editorial approach that works well elsewhere and with a business model that would be difficult to transfer beyond France. It produces three dailies for children and originated many of the common editorial traits. It goes further than most by allowing a panel of readers to choose which of the top stories written by adult journalists will actually make the paper.

Today, it relies on its subscriptions (a total of about 120,000 at last count), France’s efficient postal system that delivers for 5 cents per copy, on subsidies to promote press pluralism and on paid supplements to the subscriber base (foreign language versions, archives, etc.) Most recently, it launched a new video explainer service both in French (Mon Quotidien Vidéo) and, to target the North American audiences, in English (Clarifier). One example is about fake news [00:01:40]. It renews its French print subscriber base thanks to a massive sampling campaign each fall targeting schools.

In the early years, until the economic crisis of 2008, it also had a “club” of partners (including Coca Cola, Nike and the Pasteur Vaccination center, Pilot pens and the Carrefour grocery store group), each getting a half-page advertisement every few issues. Other parts of PlayBac produce games and sponsored editions. [France has another sterling video explainer service for children and their parents, Un Jour, Une Question, from Milan Presse/France Télévisions, including an excellent animation about terrorism (in French, 00:01:42)]

For the new weeklies, which have less of a distribution challenge,  a separate subscription scheme that targets the parents and especially grandparents has become the norm. This replaces the old model of an insert in all editions.

From the start in 2011, Japan’s 20-page weekly Yomiuri Kodomo Shimbun** for 6- to 12-year-olds, targeted grandparents, who came to account for nearly 60 percent of its more than 200,000 subscriptions. “The parents’ generation — or those in their 30s or 40s  — care the least for the print,” explains Mariko Horikawa, deputy manager of the Department of Research and Development Operations for Yomiuri Shimbun.

At Aftenposten in Norway, the “Junior” edition begun in 2012 and quickly became the company’s second most profitable product. By 2017 it counted nearly 30,000 subscribers.

The new model is also producing new partnerships. Competing German news publishers in Stuttgart together created a youth edition at least 7500 people paying between € 6.90 and € 8.90 per month for just that edition.

Meanwhile, the creators of a print edition for children in refugee and IDP (internally displace person) camps are finding an eager audience that doesn’t want the journalists to hold back in describing what they have gone through.

The French non-profit Guilde européenne du raid is creating a news-filled magazine in French, Arabic and probably in kurdish titled “Our Newspaper: Us, Children and Exiles.”

“The idea is to help them reconstruct their lives with the help of a little distraction,” says one of the organizers, Hugues Dewavrin. “It is a very delicate exercise; you have to find just the right tone.”

The content for a test issue emerged from interviews with Iraqi children by Églantine Gabaix-Hialé, the manager of the organization’s radio station in Erbil and features lots of games to help pass the time, testimonials from children about the violence they have endured and about how they are coping, and explorations of different kinds of fear and of what the children saw as scenarios for their future.

The team tested 15 copies of the 20-page edition with Iraqi children of different faiths (notably muslims, christian and yazedis) around Erbil, Mossoul. “They didn’t want to let it go!,” says editor Sonia Feertchak. “After awhile, they had done all the games, they knew all the pages by heart, they wanted to meet the children we speak about, and they wanted more and more pages.”

A 100,000 copy press run of a 36-page issue is planned for October. The French publisher, Bayard Jeunesse will introduce the young audience of its Astrapi magazine to these young exiles by publishing a 16-page insert with largely the same content.

What they will leave out is some of the violence. “We discovered the young Irakis need to read the violence they really endure, and they feel we understand them by including that,” Feerchak says. “They are interested and amazed to discover what other communities have endured, too. We are going to soothe the stories for French children.”

(Read more about creating the new news for kids and other strategies in our special report series, News Literacy and News Publishers: 7 ways forward to help young audiences fight fake news and do much, much more, commissioned by the American Press Institute.)

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