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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.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Surely, what is described is the deliberate manipulation of the news by professionals? Spin by any other name.
    Bad news has no soft image.
    Imv, if a young mind is seeking information then better it is fed the awful truth. All part of growing up.

  • Comment number 2.

    walrus - On the same rationale that films are graded by the BBFC to protect children from harm that might come from being exposed to images of sex & violence, surely there are times when news stories of a similar nature must be explained to younger children (eg the 6-12 age group) in a way that protects them from the phychological effects (nightmares, being terrified of strangers etc) that might happen if they were exposed to the full impact and images of a news story.

    For example in the Baby P case, whilst it could be explained to the child that 'bad' people did not love or take care of their child and the child died as they did not take him to hospital whne he was ill, I would not expose a child to the full horror of what actually happened. Would you? Wouldn't this scare or terrify the youngster?

    I agree that we should not shield children from the reality of the world eg poverty etc, but there has to be some assessment of what age the audience is and, taking advice from child phychologists, find a way to explain news events to children in a way that educates but does not do them any harm.

    I found the editor's posting very informative, thanks.

  • Comment number 3.

    Surely, what is described is the deliberate manipulation of the news by professionals? Spin by any other name. Comment 1.

    No diferent from the discussions all parents have with their children about events in life. And those discussions will change as the child grows older and develops maturity.

    Anything you said to a child could equally be described as spin, as perceptions, interpretations and opinions differ between people.

  • Comment number 4.

    I suspect "Walrus" isn't a parent. Spin? Give me a break. 6 year olds don't need the "awful truth". Part of growing up is the gradual introduction of the realities of the world at the appropriate time.That's why A child walking in on a couple having sex will get, I would hope, a brief answer explanatio about "a special kind of hug" and not a full run down of of Mummy and Daddy's personal kinks...

  • Comment number 5.

    News should be told has its presented, theres no nice image to a death.... no matter how much sugar coating you put on it, its still going to be absolutely horrible for young people and to be honest in todays society they don't have to look very hard to find something horrible for them to be disgusted by - cant go throughout life at any stage without coming across bad news...because thats the only kind there is

  • Comment number 6.

    im sorry but the BBFC make me laugh a 12A for a film which has all of what you mentioned, you think thats correct do you i can't understand how they certificate certain films sometimes, when the brief description says may contain scenes of a sexual nature, and some moderate violence that for a over 12 year old accompanied by an adult is it? hows the adult supposed to know whether its suitable for their kid or kids when they havent seen it beforehand - personally i think introducing kids to the news early will make them aware early of the bad stuff that goes on, so they know life ain't so sweet

  • Comment number 7.

    im sorry but the BBFC make me laugh a 12A for a film which has all of what you mentioned, you think thats correct do you i can't understand how they certificate certain films sometimes, when the brief description says may contain scenes of a sexual nature, and some moderate violence that for a over 12 year old accompanied by an adult is it? hows the adult supposed to know whether its suitable for their kid or kids when they havent seen it beforehand personally i think introducing kids to the news early will make them aware early of the bad stuff that goes on, so they know life ain't so sweet

  • Comment number 8.

    sadly there is no polite way to report murder and abuse and to candy coat it for youths you are making error after error and they need to understand the world is a dangerous place even the home can be and to hide the truth is to give abusers the upper hand.

    being open is to leave no shadow for evil people to hide in.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm curious. Could someone please link to a youtube (or other) video example of newsround reporting of distressing stories, such as the one mentioned in this blog entry?

    Seems like a worthwhile endeavour. I think children should be informed, and obviously one shouldn't psychologically damage them in the process. So good on the editor for his/her efforts!

  • Comment number 10.

    I think you should let kids know what goes on and how some things are just not right.

    Whilst I totally disagre with the ever moaning of Eastenders or the atrophy of Coronation street I do believe in Children being shown how to survive.

    The telivision focus is off centre at the moment, more into exploitation rather than protection.

    It needs only for media folks to reflect on family and relationships to bring us all back home.

  • Comment number 11.

    This is a welcome post by the editor. My daughter watches newsround and this where she gains info about current events.
    Bad news is inevitable in the world that we live in however it should be delivered in a way that is considerate to needs of the viewer.

    Newsround delivers excellent information in a way this is suitable to needs to children and they do a very good job.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'll admit it's been a while since I've watched Newsround, but I remember the biggest difference between it and the rest of the news being the lack of sensationalism. That's why it could dea so welll with sensitive stories for a young audience.

  • Comment number 13.

    Why are we so anxious about what children can or cannot deal with? The more we vex over situations the more nervous our off spring are - kids are designed to cope with most situations and, left to their own devices, they will do so.

    We create tensions by worrying about what may be going on in someone's head - it is far better to be honest and then deal with those who clearly cannot cope at an appropriate time. Delivering news needs to be matter of fact.

  • Comment number 14.

    Has anyone forgotten the wonderful world that is childhood? From the sound of some people's comments, it appears to me as if some people would rather children as soon as they understand anything be shown every evil in the world.
    Does anyone remember what it was like to be a child, a world where you don't know everything that is wrong with the world, and where nothing is that complex.
    People moan today that childhood is becoming diminished, surely some guarding of this very valuable part of life should exist.
    In no way am I saying tell children nothing, but keeping things suitable for their age is important. You tell a child the truth at too an early age, and they will have nightmares and their childhood will be ruined.

  • Comment number 15.

    With technological advances especially the universal availability of the internet, children are are far more mature at an earlier age. At primary school they should be allowed to be children and enjoy that beautiful phase. As they grow older they should be gradually introduced into adolescence and adulthood. Parents and teachers have very important roles in shaping lives of children by giving them the possibility to extend their imagination by giving them suitable books, reading material and encouraging them to look at good sites. The BBC has excellent sites for children. Parents and teachers should not shirk their responsibilities. Wholesome literature introduced at the right age is the responsibility of every school and educational authority.

  • Comment number 16.

    I did a 'stranger danger' story for a year 6 class. I told the story af Fanny Adams and Frederick Baker and how her name passed into the language. I told of a visit to Alton Cemetery to see the girl's grave.

    Several parents complained about children being subjected to such a disgusting story and the school was equally outraged. My agency immediately refused me any further work.

    The NUT agrees that children should not be subject to 'something so vile' and agreed that I should be suspended. It seems likely that this will be investigated by the General Teaching Council.

    Is it really so bad to tell a toned down account of an historical event?

  • Comment number 17.

    Can I come back?

    My view is it is dangerous to set up any official panel to manipulate any news for ANYONE. Sorry, but that's how I feel. It can lead to incursions into all sorts of information.

    Remember the abdication?

    Someone decided it was not good for us to know what was going on with our monarchy, (although, yes, a lesson was learned by the 'powers').

    Secondly, I'm not at all sure that grooming the young is for their well-being as much as future listeners.

    Third: to come gradually to the awful truth over the years is a form of planned deceit.

    Better the parent sits down with the child who insists on watching adult news and holds that child's hand.

    Well, inmv.

  • Comment number 18.

    Re: happydumps comment: 14th of November.

    I am a parent who used to be a support worker working in an agency capacity. We worked supporting children's services and I saw many distressing cases in my time working within London boroughs. I always reported my concerns to the senior workers above me. Tonight, Panorama will be showing the documentary of the Baby P case. My two children, aged 8 and 9 will be able to view the programme if they wish. I agree with Walrus's comments - your view, happydumps, that children should be shielded from the harsher aspects of life, is short-sighted. It only leads to cover-ups. Hopefully those accountable will be made to resign, after tonight's programme.

  • Comment number 19.

    I totally agree with the way Newsround handles stories, however I disagree with the news on the BBC Homepage at the moment.
    My children here at home and at the school where I work, use the BBC quite a lot and very often start at the homepage. On Friday there was a shocking picture of Baby P and even today there are more pictures of him together with disturbing headlines.
    The BBC needs to realise that children view their homepage and we do not want our children being exposed to this story in this way.

    Newspapers are the same. These papers are on display outside shops and in supermarkets, all with horrific images of Baby P and very distressing headlines. Why seek to protect our children one way, when you are disturbing and upsetting them in another?

    The Media as a whole needs to take responsibility for the content and images it posts that are easily accessible to children. Providing a link on the BBC Homepage to the Baby P story would be fine, we don't need images and headlines screaming at us. This is a horrific story and editors need to be careful where they place their news.

  • Comment number 20.

    Children nowadays grow up too quick. When i was 14 i was still out playing football with my friends every day.
    Now its a whole different situation.
    I want to go back to the way it was before

 

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