BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Explaining MPs' expenses

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Simon Goretzki Simon Goretzki | 15:57 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009

MPs' expenses - it's a huge story that obviously gets the audiences of most news programmes angry and animated.

But what if your audience can't vote, doesn't pay taxes and has probably never heard of the key players? For Newsround's audience of under-12s, the story is not an obvious "must do". It's complicated, confusing and packed with details of things many children just aren't aware of - things like mortgages, constituencies, and of course, expenses themselves.

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Plus we know that, aside from the prime minister and perhaps David Cameron, MPs don't feature highly on their radar. Why cover it at all, then?

Well, despite the above, kids get as outraged as adults at anything that might be seen as cheating, and have a very strong sense of right and wrong - so we knew that if Newsround could explain it clearly, we could get them on board.

Once we'd decided to go with the story, it was really just a case of Newsround doing what we like to think we do best - boiling down a story to its essential ingredients, poring over every line of script, and asking ourselves "Will this be easy to follow for a ten year old?"

Never heard of expenses? Well, they're "extra cash for things that help you do your job" -not perhaps what you'd hear Nick Robinson say on the Ten O'Clock News, but vital, we think, for a child who may have no idea what the fuss is all about.

Saying that, the BBC's political editor did play his part, grabbed by our reporter Sonali on College Green for a soundbite that made it into a report that managed to get in all the crucial elements in just over 90 seconds.

Our web story was, we hope, also a model of clarity, with links to an online explainer on the workings of Parliament and politics. If the expenses saga helps get Newsround viewers interested in those subjects, that can only be a good thing. If it happens to also introduce them to the idea already held by many adults that not all politicians are whiter than white - well, they were bound to find out one day, weren't they?

Simon Goretzki is the acting editor of Newsround

A sensitive issue

Simon Goretzki Simon Goretzki | 12:55 UK time, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Since Mark Speight's sad death on Sunday the Newsround website has received over 3,000 e-mails, mostly from children saying how much they admired him and how much he'll be missed.

Newsround logoClearly this shocking story was something that a vast majority of the Newsround audience were quickly aware of, and something that they cared about deeply. But how much of the detail should Newsround actually report - indeed should we be reporting it all?

That was the subject of a debate on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show on Monday, sparked by e-mails from parents saying the story was too distressing for a young audience. Interestingly, (and despite what is written in today's Daily Mail) Newsround only had a tiny handful of similar e-mails, and to be honest there was never any doubt that we would report Mark's death, but we've been aware from the start that the story raises difficult editorial questions.

Mark SpeightForemost amongst these has been the issue of suicide. After much discussion and after consulting with Editorial Policy we felt uneasy with the idea that some children's first encounter with the difficult concept of suicide would be occurring in relation to a CBBC personality whom they looked up to and greatly admired.

Trying to explain to young children why anyone would take their own life also poses problems. Newsround's usual approach is to explain difficult subjects clearly, in no-nonsense language that kids understand. Yesterday however, it was easy to imagine us explaining that someone had killed themself because they were feeling incredibly sad, and for a child who is being bullied or coping with a divorce or death in their family to then think; "I'm feeling incredibly sad too - is this an option for me?"

It was for this reason that Newsround did something yesterday that goes right against the team's instincts, and deliberately didn't include all the key facts. Our reports did not explicitly state that Mark had killed himself, but instead were written in such a way that children who may have gleaned the facts elsewhere would be able to piece together what happened, whilst the younger end of the our audience, aged around six, would simply understand that Mark had died, that he'd been feeling sad, and that lots of people would be missing him. Did we do the right thing? Were we overly cautious? We're still talking about it, and the debate will no doubt continue.

The Newsround team work in the same BBC department that Mark worked in, colleagues were friends of his, and Mark and Newsround shared the same audience. Whilst as journalists yesterday we may have felt unusual, in terms of serving that audience we hope we got it right.

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