News kids can use
For the first time in 20 years, news for kids is on Canadian TV
October 24, 2019, 12:51 pm ASTLast Updated: November 1, 2019, 9:49 am
This story contains a correction
It’s fun, modern, and assuredly Canadian. It is six-and-a-half minutes long, and looks like a YouTube vlog cranked up to 11. For the first time in a generation, Canadian TV is airing a news show for kids.
Since YTV News went off CTV’s airwaves in 1999, Canada had lacked TV news for children. Then in 2018, Sabrina Fabian and Nina Corfu launched CBC Kids News, a website for viewers aged 9-13. This led, on Oct. 19, to the launch of a corresponding TV show, Recap, to air nationally at 11:53 a.m. on Saturday mornings.
Other countries with public broadcasting corporations have long provided kids with their own news service, including Britain’s Newsround and Australia’s Behind the News. There are a handful of TV news shows for kids and more than a dozen kids’ news websites around the world. TIME has had a special edition of its magazine and website for kids since 1995. So why is it only now that CBC is offering these services?
CBC Halifax journalist Sabrina Fabian noticed the lack of kids’ news in Canada in 2015. She discovered “this huge untapped market. The problem with providing news for kids is there’s no money in it — you can’t advertise to children — so that’s why it often fails. It’s also the fact that kids aren’t really interested in the news, and aren’t going to go seek it out.”
Fabian reached out to her co-worker Nina Corfu, whom she had worked with on the radio call-in show Maritime Noon. Fabian thought Corfu would be interested in working on this project, in part because they’re both mothers of young children.
Fabian and Corfu researched children’s news programs and websites for about a year, and finally had a pitch ready to show CBC. The CBC Kids News team is now Fabian and Corfu in Halifax; they created and run the website. Five full-time and two-part time staff in Toronto support the website, and now also produce the TV show. The team also has about 25 young contributors all over Canada, including Isabelle MacNeil in Halifax. These contributors film videos with the help of local CBC producers.
“I come to work every day,” Fabian says, “feeling like I’m doing something really important, something I really believe in.”
The production team at CBC Kids News emphasizes creating well-researched and well-explained stories, rather than rushing to get the story out. They don’t have any particular style guide for writing for kids, though they do follow Journalistic Standards and Practices, the CBC’s ethics code. Fabian and Corfu also have colourful, laminated sheets on their desks that ask questions like “Is it current? Is it harmful? Where’s the kid perspective?”
The Kids News team meets at 10:30 every morning to talk about the stories of the day and plan new content. The team of five in Toronto stand in a white room around a white table. It looks clinical, not at all like the rest of the Toronto CBC Kids department, which is decked out in cartoon characters, lights and colours. The two Halifax-based creators video call in from their desks.
At one recent meeting Corfu suggested they adapt a piece from CBC’s main website about a mobility suit for paralyzed people. Kids News has already considered one kid who could help with accessibility and mobility stories. One of the guys in Toronto said it shouldn’t appear that whenever they run a story like this, they call on the kid with mobility issues.
Kids News has to balance topics, tell stories simply and concisely, and bring in kids’ voices, all while avoiding tropes and stereotypes. At this meeting they also needed to write an article on a viral video game where you play as an annoying goose.
Arjun Ram is one of CBC’s contributors. He’s 13, loves sports, reads lots of news, and watches the Office on Netflix. The CBC Kids News team took an interest in him when he appeared as a contestant on Canada’s Smartest Person Junior.
“I love it,” Ram says. “I enjoy being informed about stuff that goes on. And I think it would be great if I could help other people stay up to date.”
In one recent video, Ram went to an Andrew Scheer press event during the 2019 federal election. He spoke to CBC reporter David Cochrane about how to ask questions in a media scrum, and then quizzed Scheer about gun control. After that, Ram explored the Conservative Party tour bus and raided its kitchen for candy and protein bars.
Unlike regular news, news for children often provides ample background. It frames events within a broader context, which makes it easier for kids to understand.
“My research shows that there are actually large numbers of kids and teens who don’t want to engage with news,” Tanya Notley says. But “most young people do engage with the news regularly.”
Notley, who researches children’s media literacy at Western Sydney University in Australia, says “it’s really important that we recognize that children and teenagers consume a lot of adult news.” Kids hear news on TV, on the radio, and also engage with news online.
Yet Notley, in a recent study, discovered that only one per cent of news stories included a young person’s perspective. And a 2017 report by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based non-profit that analyzes media for children, found that 74 per cent of kids think there should be more youth representation in news stories about young people.
“News producers don’t see children and teenagers as a target audience,” Notley says, “even though they are. (Journalists) don’t think about the experience of young people when they’re creating the news.”
While Australia’s Behind the News is hosted by adults, Recap is hosted by a teen, Myah Elliott. She started her own YouTube channel in 2018, posting vlogs, shopping hauls and other lifestyle content. Recap has a “vlog style,” says Marie McCann, senior director of CBC Kids. Snappy cuts and comedic zooms keep the momentum going while Elliott’s on-screen personality shines.
McCann has worked in children’s media for more than 25 years and has performed in, produced and created TV shows for kids, including Gisele’s Big Backyard. She greenlit Fabian and Corfu’s idea to create a kids’ news website. McCann had been thinking about adding news to the CBC Kids plate already, and was thrilled with Fabian and Corfu’s proposal.
“Kids’ media is the media where you can really make a difference,” McCann says. “They’re in the middle of learning about the entire world. Their brains are incredibly engaged. They’re the toughest critics, but they’re very open to wild ideas.”
Because CBC Kids News is digital-first, the idea was always to create a web-based show that is also broadcast on TV. Kids want to see commentary, reactions and personality-based infotainment, like they see on YouTube. McCann believes Recap is a great complement to the website. It’s kids’ pop culture, told with journalistic standards and practices.
Over to you
James Murdoch says the debut episode of Recap was “pleasant and fun to watch,” but also thinks the show needs to find its voice. Back in the ’90s, Murdoch produced YTV News, a weekly half-hour show for teens on CTV.
Murdoch feels Recap’s first episode was short on detail and substance, like when the host mentioned that this was her first federal election but didn’t elaborate. He is not sure why Recap lacks the depth of newsgathering seen in the one-shot videos on the website.
Even so, he says, “I’m very happy that this void is being filled again.”
The hosts that Murdoch worked with on YTV News were all recent graduates from university journalism schools, and pitched and taped their own stories. One of those hosts, Exan Auyoung, is now an associate producer of CBC Kids News. Twenty years later, she’s doing the kind of work Murdoch used to do.
When Auyoung told him of her position at CBC Kids News this year, “we had a good laugh about it,” Murdoch says.
He is glad Auyoung is able to take that experience and use it to her advantage at CBC. He says making kids’ news is “such a hard, hard thing to do: to find that balance of making sure everybody’s informed, but not talking down to your audience.”
Sabrina Fabian is proud of what she and Nina Corfu have created. They never expected the show to go national.
Fabian says CBC Kids News has turned out “bigger and better than anything I could have imagined.”
Meet some of the Kids News contributors.
Correction: Nov. 1, 2019: Exan Auyoung is an associate producer of CBC Kids News, not the TV show ReCap.
Have a story idea? Let us know