BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Newsround and bereavement

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Sinead Rocks | 16:05 UK time, Friday, 13 March 2009

The death of a loved one can be a life-changing experience and one that can be difficult to deal with at any age. For children - it is arguably even more harrowing.

Newsround logoWhen we first considered making a Newsround special on how children cope with bereavement, we immediately sought the advice of a clinical psychologist.

He backed up our suggestion that it can be even harder for young people to deal with because many children aren't as emotionally equipped to handle loss as adults.

Young people don't always know about support services and they can often give the impression of having "got over it" when in reality they are simply bottling up their emotions.

Using this guidance as a starting point and after consulting with a number of charities - we ran a short item on our programme asking children who have suffered bereavement and who would be willing to share their stories to get in touch.

We weren't sure if anyone would respond so were somewhat taken aback when lots of children contacted us.

The research stage of the project was tricky - we needed children and their guardians to understand what getting involved in the programme would mean.

We'd be asking about very personal issues and reminding children of difficult times with cameras and lights pointed at them. Not an easy ask.

Some children we spoke to were clearly still traumatised by their experiences so after long discussions with them and their families we ruled them out.

Our overriding objective was always to make a programme that could benefit children - not traumatise them further.

Which is how we ended up focusing on Joe, Bradley, Sarika and Katie. They range in age from eight to 11 and each of them has lost someone close to them.

Putting the programme together has been an intensely moving experience for the team. It's not easy listening to what these children have to say but each of them was adamant that by sharing their experiences - they felt they could help other children facing similar circumstances.

And actually, on balance, it's not at all depressing. There's definite uplift and inspiration in each of their tales and this is what we want our audience to hear.

We have put a considerable amount of work into covering bereavement responsibly with the overall intention of offering guidance and support on a subject that is rarely tackled or discussed in children's programmes.

Watch it if you can and let us know what you think.

UPDATE, 6 April: The programme has now been broadcast and you can watch it below:

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Sinead Rocks is editor of Newsround

Difficult stories for young audiences

Sinead Rocks | 10:12 UK time, Friday, 14 November 2008

At Newsround, we're often asked how we tackle difficult and upsetting stories such as the deaths of the two young boys in Manchester and Baby P in London. A good question for any news outlet and particularly pertinent to us as our content is aimed at 6 - 12 year olds. There isn't an easy answer to it nor a one-size-fits-all approach. We start each day with a team meeting where we discuss the news agenda and try to work out what stories have the most relevance to our audience. As a result, there will often be stories that feature prominently on other news outlets that we simply don't cover.

Newsround logoThis doesn't mean that we shy away from reporting on difficult and at times distressing stories. For example, we are currently covering the Shannon Matthews trial. When Shannon went missing, the story provoked a huge response from our audience - they had a lot of questions and concerns about it and we felt we had a responsibility to put it into context and give them as much information as possible in a non-sensationalised way. Now that a trial has started, we thought it appropriate to follow the story through.

Another deciding factor for us when dealing with difficult stories, can be the amount of coverage it gets elsewhere. If our audience has heard about a distressing incident through other means they'll often contact us with questions about it. When that happens we will often try to break it down, contextualise it and provide as much reassurance as possible. Often this is about the language we use and the pictures we broadcast but it can also involve us liaising with child psychologists behind the scenes to get their advice and to ensure we are on the right track. Clearly we never want to scare our audience so a great deal of thought goes into everything we do.

We are in regular contact with children via e-mail and through school visits and this helps us gauge their reaction to stories, their concerns and their level of understanding. We also aim to provide additional information, advice and guidance online and we know that many schools use our content to explain tough news issues.

It can still be controversial though. Some parents prefer to shield their children from certain issues and don't want them featured on children's TV. Whilst others rely on a programme like ours to help explain world events. We work hard to straddle that divide. At the end of the day, we want to give children information about the world they live in and provide them with the means to discuss current issues and hear the views of their peers. Listening to our audience on a daily basis is undoubtedly the most valuable tool we have when working out what to cover and how to cover it.

Newsround refresh

Sinead Rocks | 12:55 UK time, Monday, 29 September 2008

It's a day of change here at Newsround. After months of preparation, our TV programmes have had a bit of a refresh. We've got a new studio look, new titles and a new theme tune.

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Actually, the last bit is not strictly true. Those of you who grew up watching John Craven's Newsround may think it sounds a bit familiar...if you can cast your minds back far enough.

Our composer Chris Banks has rearranged and remixed it so that it doesn't sound too retro for our target audience of six- to 12-year-olds. So the bongos are out but I think we've managed to retain some of the same sense of urgency that managed to grab my attention when I was a child. That was one of our main aims when we decided to make changes.

Newsround is still the only daily news service for children in the UK but that doesn't mean we are guaranteed an audience. Children have so many more media sources to choose from these days that it's vital for us to move with the times.

It's clearly not just about new titles and music; we need to focus on finding stories that are relevant to children's lives and we need to cover them in an engaging way. We're going to ask our audience for feedback later this evening. I'll let you know how we get on...

UPDATE, 01 OCT 08, 05:00 PM: As promised - the verdict on our new look is in from our very discerning audience and it's about 80% positive.

Iona, 12 from Scotland says it's "awesome and amazing". Conrad from Buckinghamshire is 14 and describes it as "very futuristic". Eleven-year-old Eve from Stockport is less keen though. She's thinks our refresh is "mindless self-indulgence" - which is a bit harsh!

My favourite comment comes from 10-year-old Mohammed from Birmingham who says: "Well, it's obvious that it's not brilliant...I'm lying - it's brilliastic!" You can read more here.

SportsBod - the new music is a remix of the Johnny One Note intro - the outro in Craven's days came from the BBC's Radiophonic workshop and yes we've brought it back too. You'll have to watch one of our shows all the way through to hear it though!

Tough topics

Sinead Rocks | 10:10 UK time, Monday, 18 February 2008

A radio presenter in Belfast recently asked me why Newsround has decided to “change its agenda”. She was reacting to the news that we’ve been given the go ahead to make two new specials; one on divorce, the other on knife crime. “Divorce I understand...” she said “But knife crime?”

Newsround logoTo spare her blushes, I’ll say she’s 30-something. As a child, she watched the show regularly and now views it fondly, albeit through a haze of nostalgia. Her memories of Newsround are all about pandas and space shuttle launches.

And to some extent, that’s true, but Newsround also has a history of not shying away from darker stories and social issues. At times, it means our output can be contentious. Different parents have different ideas about what they think their children should know about the world and we have a duty to keep that in mind every single day. At the same time though, the reality is that children pick up on news events from other media as well and our contact with them shows that they often turn to us during traumatic and difficult times, hoping that we can provide some kind of context and reassurance.

Knife crime came to our attention when we commissioned a survey late last year into the views and experiences of children aged 6 – 12. Alarmingly, 10% said they were scared of being stabbed or shot.

We are determined that our forthcoming programme will both address and allay these fears. To a large extent that’s what we seek to do on a daily basis whether we are discussing the situation in Iraq, the pressure of SATs or terrorism in the UK.

When the London bombs exploded, the e-mails kids sent us about their reactions to the events, became the inspiration for the Bafta award winning drama ‘That Summer Day’. Similarly, our forthcoming divorce programme ‘(The Worst Thing Ever?’) takes an innovative approach – mixing drama with animation but all of it is based on the real life experiences of the children who watch our shows.

Newsround’s agenda hasn’t changed but perhaps the world has; our job is simply to explain it. Our special programmes will be on air in spring. Watch out for them and let me know if you think we’ve achieved our aims.

Happy birthday to Newsround

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Sinead Rocks | 11:05 UK time, Monday, 3 December 2007

In 2002, when Newsround celebrated its thirtieth birthday, we invited John Craven back to co-present the show. As Newsround’s first and longest-serving presenter it seemed a fitting tribute and gave us the chance to take a nostalgic look back at three decades of news for kids - and to get our pictures taken with him, much to his bemusement.

Newsround logoNow we’re 35 we’ve chosen to mark our latest milestone in a different way. We’ve commissioned an in-depth survey into children’s lives, attitudes and beliefs and the results are fascinating. In many ways they contradict the commonly held belief that young people today have it much harder than previous generations. Yes, they are aware of crime, terrorism and the like but most think Britain is still a great place to live and despite speculation about increased exam pressure and overly crowded classrooms – the majority say they enjoy school and describe themselves as happy.

But it’s not all good news. Dads don’t come out of the survey too well. 1 in 4 children in the UK don’t count them as immediate family and if something went wrong, only 11% would go to their fathers for help (compared to the 76% who’d turn to Mum.) We’ll be bringing the survey to life all week on Newsround and will give our audience the chance to have their say on the issues that it raises.

Newsround has come a long way over the past 35 years. The show started with just three members of staff sharing two typewriters in a corner of the BBC newsroom. Now a fifty strong team produces 37 TV programmes every week and our website is staffed 365 days a year. Yet our central premise remains the same as it was back in 1972. We aim to help children make sense of the world around them and give them the chance to have their say on what is going on.

It’s impossible to predict what the broadcasting landscape will be like in 2042, but I think we have proved that children have a real appetite for news and if we can continue to bring this to them in an interesting and engaging way then hopefully Newsround will still have the same resonance and relevance in another thirty five years time.

Appropriate language

Sinead Rocks | 13:19 UK time, Thursday, 13 September 2007

There's been much discussion of Newsround on the internet this week, at least in America, after The Drudge Report website linked to an old story of ours about 9/11. The piece, entitled 'Why did they do it', prompted a flurry of complaints accusing us of anti-American bias.

Newsround logoIt was clear that the majority of people had clicked through to a story that had been written almost six years ago, had our old style graphics, and should not have been available on the site - we had replaced it with a newer version some time ago, but somehow the original version mistakenly remained on the servers. As such, I took the page down and sent emails of apology to everyone who had contacted us, pointing out our error and that it had never been our intention to offend. As a BBC site, Newsround's core values include impartiality and objectivity and when something goes wrong, we hold our hands up to it.

It later transpired that some blogs were actually objecting to the newer version of this guide (which you can find here) to the events of September 11th and my apology was interpreted as being about this. That is not the case. Both pieces had the same title and the newer story still contains a section that attempts to explain why the attack on America happened - and herein lies the problem.

It seems that several websites see it as an attempt by us to 'justify' the events of that day. This is obviously not the case. We feel it is entirely legitimate to question the motives of the people who carried out the attacks. It's worth remembering that Newsround is aimed at six to 12 year olds and our contact with our audience has shown that their understanding is helped by events being put into some kind of context. We often have to translate complex and emotive issues into language appropriate for children. It's a responsibility we take very seriously. The old version of the guide won't be making a return to our site - but we stand by the more recent version.

UPDATE: Thanks for your comments - I've replied here and here.

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