User Generating Children


Newsround has always had a tricky brief: making world news accessible to children who would probably have preferred it if CBBC had left the cartoons on. So UGC has been the programme’s key way of engaging the naturally narcissistic young; remember watching some lucky child’s Press Pack report back in the day? Fast forward fifteen years and the bustling Newsround website has given the programme a host of extra strings to its audience-engagement bow.

Keeping it Young

Some of the UGC is very distinct to a young audience…

The chatrooms too are buzzing, and host not just discussions on major news stories, but also other threads more immediately relevant to the programme’s target audience of 6 to 12 year-olds:

As with adult sites, children are invited to send in pictures and clips, comment on articles, add personal music reviews, vote in polls. And yes, the Press Pack tradition is still going strong. (For the uninitiated, this is an opportunity for children to send in their story ideas. If picked, they get to present a report on their story which is then aired on the main programme). The site, in short, is positively dripping with opportunities for child-friendly and child-directed UGC:

Why it Works

Is it that children are just greatly inclined to engage with the media in the hope of seeing their name on the screen? Well, no, actually. Whizz over to the online home of Young Times, the Times newspaper’s children’s section. Like Newsround, no one could accuse them of lacking child-friendliness:

But, riveting though this issue is for 6 to 12 year olds, no one has taken up the offer of leaving a comment. In fact, out of the seven stories featured on YT’s front page, only one has a comment. Of course, the comparison with the Newsround site is not strictly fair: the latter is part of the national child psyche, and many more children will visit its website. But that’s not the only difference.

What the Times, and other similarly underused children’s pages such as First News have tried to do is foist drier, adult-style UGC opportunities onto a young audience, and it doesn’t work. Children evidently demand more scope to direct the content themselves and thereby make an adult site their own. Any hint of top-down management and the site takes on the fatal whiff of a homework project. Children’s UGC can play a bigger role than in adult news, but you’ve got to put them in the driving seat.

CARON BELL

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