This past Thursday through Saturday, I attended the National Newspaper Association's 123rd Convention in Mobile, Alabama.
Meeting publishers and editors of community newspapers -- mostly weekly papers -- from all parts of the United States reinforced my conviction of just how vital their work is to the overall health of an area.
Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Greer, journalism department chair at the University of Alabama and my master's project advisor, she and I were invited to present the paper and project as part of NNA's Community Building Symposium.
We heard lots of good ideas presented by people doing everything they can to help newspapers find their way to continue serving their communities through a changing economic and technological landscape.
I maintain one key is largely overlooked -- instilling the news habit when kids are young. Common wisdom says you don't wait until your child is an adult before you teach him or her to brush his or her teeth.
The problem is that not much in most newspapers is targeted to kids, is about kids, or is on a child's reading level. Our study showed less than 7% of available news space was targeted to or referred to children age 14 and under -- about 20% of the population.
Material targeted to children is largely puzzles, games, general knowledge articles, and coloring pages.
I applaud any newspaper who does that much. They have invested money and space in those products in an effort to include the youngest members of their communities in the readership of their community publication.
But most of the material we found -- even material targeted directly to children -- was written at a higher-than-9th-grade reading level.
I contend newsrooms can do more -- much more.
Part of a newspaper's responsibility is to help citizens "navigate society," according to Bill Kovach and Ted Rosenstiel, authors of The Elements of Journalism. But how credible is the map if 20% of the population is largely missing from the picture? And how useful is the map to the community's youngest citizens if they can't read it?
Want to know more about how to write real local news -- government meetings, community events, community issues, and more -- from a "kid angle" and in simple language?
Reply to this blog posting or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I'd love to talk to you about scaling down local news without dumbing it down.
Our children (and their parents and teachers) can use all the help they can get in finding their way through their local world.
Kid-sized real toothbrushes, kid-sized real news -- makes sense, yes?