At a time when print circulations for papers are going backwards, one niche isn’t doing too badly at all.
Ten years ago Piers Morgan launched UK children’s newspaper First News. Last year, it was the only British newspaper to grow its circulations (they were up 17% to 79,000). In France and Germany, subscriptions in children’s papers are holding steady in a sea of falling circulations.
But while children’s news show Behind the News on the ABC has cemented its place in Australian homes and schools, this country has, until recently, lacked a children’s newspaper. Spotting a market gap, former Sydney Morning Herald journalist Saffron Howden launched Crinkling in April. We spoke to her just after its 15th issue.
Howden says the paper already has 3000 paying subscribers, and its business model is currently to be half-supported by ads, and the other half by subscriptions to schools, households and other places. It’s printed out of Sydney by Fairfax (though the company has no other involvement in the title). She reckons it needs to get beyond 5000 subscriptions to become financially sustainable.
The take-up of printed papers for children seems counter-intuitive. If kids these days are more comfortable with a keyboard than paper and pencil, why would they turn to a medium their parents are abandoning?
Studies show children still prefer to read books in hard copy, Saffron says. The tactile nature of the paper is something children value.
“There’s a lot to being able to physically hold it in their hands,” she said. “Also, they’ve seen their parents and other adults with newspapers. So the idea of having their own is appealing. And there’s something amazing about getting something addressed to you in the mail every week.
“Kids do spend a lot of time with screens, so a printed paper is almost a novelty.”
Crinkling is largely written by professional journalists, though children do contribute parts of the paper. The opinion pages and reviews are written by children. And junior reporters have contributed to special one-off features — in the first issue, a bunch of young reporters trekked up to Canberra to interview PM Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens leader Richard Di Natale.
“The aim is to give them a sense of being able to contribute — that their view about what’s going in the world matters,” Howden said.
Globally, some children’s newspapers steer away from the news agenda, instead filling their pages with uplifting stories and things seen as more directly relevant to the lives of children. That’s not been Howden’s strategy.
“We are genuinely a newspaper,” Howden said. “Whatever is happening in the world, if it’s newsworthy, we report on it.”
“We’ve recently covered the Nice attack, and this week we covered the Don Dale juvenile detention issue and the migrant crisis in Europe.”
A child psychologist adviser helps journalists shape their copy for a younger audience. Children hear the news anyway, says Howden. The trick for Crinkling is to contextualise it. In the case of the Nice terror attack, this meant including information about what terrorism is; why it’s in the news; why people have ideals strong enough to kill for; as well as the facts of the attack. The paper also offered solutions about how children could promote tolerance and harmony in their own communities.
“As journalists, we’re used to writing with all these assumptions about our readers’s general knowledge of the world,” Howden said. “One of the biggest surprises for me was that with every story in Crinkling you cannot assume any such knowledge. So you’ve got to think about the language you use, how you explain things. It’s actually a lot harder than writing for a general news readership.”