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Are newspapers yesterday’s news? And do children still need to be informed?

Brought to you by Ali Warner

Before I begin my musings on this topic I want to declare my own bias. I am not a digital native. I’m not even a millennial. I’m an old school print journo who is surviving in the new digi world of news by learning new tricks (and getting the next generation to appreciate some of the old ones).

I was brought up on newspapers and magazines and I still love the luxury of time on the sofa leafing through the Sundays. Do my nine-year-old twin boys feel the same way? The answer is a resounding no.

If they are looking for information about the world, they look online first. For them Google is the font of all knowledge. ‘Do they question the validity and accuracy of the information that is served? Again, I’d have to say no. It’s online. It ranked highly. It must be true. It’s my job as a parent to curate and consider the validity and accuracy of the sites they are searching. It’s also my job to equip them with the tools and understanding to do this for themselves.

My journalist students at the University of Roehampton face the same issues, via different channels. Social is a big part of how they get news. Print newspapers not so much, unless it’s a freebie.

But here’s the thing about social, so succinctly put by fellow journalist Conor Johnston. “When a photo of something in the news is shared on Facebook or Twitter we don’t really know where the photo came from. Is it really what it says it is and – most of all – what’s the real reason it is being shared by the person who first posted it?

“With a newspaper, readers have the work of an Editor who is responsible for making sure information and photos are correct and that they are telling you the truth about an event or situation. Yes, the paper will have its own standards and way of looking at the world, but you can account for that and learn from it too.

Without young people buying real newspapers to support journalism there’s a risk that truth and fiction will mix more and more, making it harder for them to find the accurate information they deserve about important stories affecting their lives.”

And it’s not just about accuracy. It’s about choice. As social channels become bigger players in the land of content and news provision, and their data algorithms get cleverer at serving you content based on your previous choices, what you are exposed to in terms of views and opinions narrows rather broadens. It also leaves people open to just seeing the extreme sides of an argument. The margins become the middle.

This generation of digital natives deserve to be given the same freedom of choice to decide what they think as we did. They need to be given access to information that allows them to go beyond the most liked opinion and have the confidence to know what they like and feel, because how else are they going to make informed choices about big things such as Brexit that will impact their future lives?

It’s this that remains one of the USPs of a printed newspaper such as First News. It offers young (and older readers) a visual demonstration and understanding of the hierarchy of news. Pages are designed to show a story’s impact on society, because the most important news is on the front page, and the biggest stories come first.

It doesn’t assume like today’s newspapers that people already know the story – it also works because it involves its reader demographic in the content creation.

It’s a bit like the BBC – a required standard, a first foothold into news that isn’t homework, but that gives them access to the bigger things beyond tv and their Xbox that shape their world and their place in it.

By now you’ve probably gathered I’m passionate about print but I’m not a luddite. Newspapers have their work to do to engage a generation who expect immediacy and mobility, who are time poor and want interactive news sources that fit in their pocket. So is the future of newspapers on paper? Well, that’s a Tbc…

What should remain, however, are the principles of good news gathering, where stories are produced not solely from opinion or created with the most clickable headline, but that come from credible, unbiased, timely and relevant sources and that are presented in a way that allows their readers to make up their own minds.

About the author

Ali Warner is a freelance journalist and senior lecturer in Feature writing and Magazine Production, University of Roehampton.

Follow her on Twitter: @alivmwarner