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RTÉ's news2day: 'The tone of our news is important for children - no jargon or dramatic language'

News2day editors Avril Hoare and Anne-Marie Smyth outline how the team has broken down the tough issues in the last year.

Avril Hoare & Anne-Marie Smyth

BRINGING NEWS TO children in a way they can understand is always our mission at RTÉ’s news2day but there has never been a time when a news story has had such a direct impact on the lives of children all over the world than exists now.

School closures, missing friends, sports and other activities cancelled, chatting to grandparents over zoom, drive-by birthday parties, drive-in Santa visits, no Trick or Treating. A year of huge change and a story that is changing all the time.

We have found that children have a big appetite for news and want to know what’s going on. Access to news has never been easier or greater – we can watch, read and listen to news all day, every day.

Breaking it down

Some of it can be scary for children, so what news2day aims to do is provide context and tell a story in a calm and neutral way. Tone is very important. No jargon, no dramatic language, no graphic images.

How do you tell a story about a global pandemic to children? At RTÉ news2day we started with them. Before the schools closed last March, we invited the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn into studio to answer questions sent in by our young viewers.

Their questions, their concerns. We explained the correct way to wash your hands. We produced an online Covid-19 dictionary, explaining terms like social distancing, lockdown, pandemic.

We produced a 20-minute special TV programme with the then Health Minister, Simon Harris, who answered questions from our young viewers. Last September when schools were reopened, we again invited Dr Ronan Glynn in to answer new questions sent in by children. It is central to everything we do at news2day, that children know their voices will be heard.

Our motto is ‘Truth and Hope’. For example, with Covid-19, we will report it when the number of cases is very high or when new restrictions are introduced. We also report news about the vaccine programme, that scientists all over the world are working on vaccines that will help prevent people from getting sick. Truth and hope, facts and reassurance.

Through a child’s eyes

We’re always striving to find engaging ways to cover the Pandemic from a child’s perspective. We’ve spoken to children around the world about what restrictions are like for them in our recent series called Pandemic Postcards. It reminds children here that they’re not alone and that most children across the world are going through the same challenges, like lockdowns, home-schooling and social distancing.

They’re just as curious to find out what it’s like for children in countries like New Zealand, where life is much more normal.

We’ve also spoken to many children here who have a parent or guardian who is a Frontline Worker, for example, a doctor, nurse, bus driver or garda, for our series Frontline Families. They’ve been speaking about how their lives have changed, about their concerns and their pride.

We see news for children as a vital service at any time so we’re also keen to keep them informed on everything else that’s happening in life outside the Pandemic – to feed their thirst for knowledge of the world around them.

Difficult topics

We covered the publication last month of the Commission of Investigation’s report on Mother and Baby Homes. We contextualised it by saying whereas today there are many different types of families, it wasn’t always like that. We went on to explain the story from there.

We find that children have an innate sense of justice and of what really matters, and we like to give them the opportunity to express that when possible.

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For example, we were so inspired by poet Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill we Climb” which we featured as part of our US Presidential Inauguration coverage, that we launched a Poetry Challenge, for children to write a poem entitled “What Matters to Me” in under 200 words.

From the classroom to the living room, it’s interesting that now that children are being home-schooled, many are now watching RTÉ news2day at home with a parent or guardian on RTÉ2 or the RTÉ Player, instead of mainly watching the show in school.

We’ve certainly had a lot more contact from parents since the schools closed and we think that’s great. Studies have shown that parents/guardians who watch news with their children increase the educational benefit by opening up conversations and giving them the opportunity to ask questions.

And research has also shown that children who are more engaged with what’s happening in their communities, in their countries and in the world become more active citizens.

We are in no doubt about children’s interest in news and it is a privilege to edit a programme like RTÉ news2day which we hope, fosters that interest and helps children make sense of their world.

Anne-Marie Smyth and Avril Hoare are Editors of RTÉ news2day on on RTÉ2 or the RTÉ Player.

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Avril Hoare & Anne-Marie Smyth

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