Targeting the new kid on the block

Can kids really be turned on to current affairs? Piers Morgan thinks so and with the launch of First News is determined to prove it. David McCormack looks at what readers can expect and how PROs can get involved.

True gaps in the crowded modern media world are few and far between. Yet former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan claims to be filling one with  First News, a newspaper for children that launches on 5 May.

The weekly title is an ambitious venture to bring current affairs and finance to nine to 12-year-olds. The pill will be sweetened by content on child-friendly subjects such as entertainment, computer games and sport, plus a raft of celebrities including Jamie Oliver and David Beckham.

Yet the question remains: in an age of declining circulations, and with children in particular using the web rather than traditional forms of media, is there need for such a specialist weekly newspaper? Are children even remotely interested in current affairs?

'Kids nowadays are so much more exposed to what is going on in the world because of 24-hour TV news and the internet,' Morgan tells PRWeek. 'My sons are always asking questions such as "Who is Osama Bin Laden?" and "What is global warming?".'

Morgan describes his role as editorial director of First News as 'broad strokes'; he will be involved in weekly meetings and using his showbiz clout to commission celebrity interviews. 'My role will be to guide and advise. I'm used to editing newspapers, while Nicky Cox is probably the best in the business at editing kids' magazines,' he adds.

Publishing heavyweight
Cox has an impressive track record. During 14 years at BBC Worldwide she set up the corporation's children's magazine division and launched more than 50 spin-off titles, including the print versions of Teletubbies, Bob The Builder and Top of the Pops. Cox says she has wanted to launch a children's newspaper since working on the now-defunct Early Times in the early 1990s.

'I'm convinced there is a market for a kids' newspaper,' she adds, dismissing the notion that the internet would be a better medium. 'There are 194 children's magazines making a living.

'First News is a newspaper, not a magazine. It will be colour, with short, snappy copy and lots of pictures. It has to have substance, but also be fun.' Morgan says: 'Nothing has been done properly yet in this sector. We believe we have something dynamic, bright and breezy, with lots of celebrities.'

The newspaper will go on sale every Friday, priced £1. It will be a 24-page tabloid, with the first six or seven pages featuring the week's main UK and world news. Cox says it will cover 'anything that would appear in an adult newspaper, although animal stories will get more prominence'.

A news analysis in the launch issue – out on polling day for the local elections – will look at how local and central governments differ. Two pages of entertainment news will focus on what is happening in TV, film and music. There will also be a weekly interview with an exceptional or inspirational child, carried out by teenage cookery expert Sam Stern.

Reader involvement will also play a part. Two pages have been set aside for readers to send in their own reports. Roving reporters will be able to download a News Crew press card from the website (www.firstnews.co.uk) and submit an interview with, for instance, their local football manager.

Then there are the celebrities. Jamie Oliver has a food page, with a recipe of the week plus questions from readers.  Esther Rantzen is the agony aunt ('bringing her ChildLine expertise', explains Morgan) and Sir Richard Branson will reply to questions in his capacity as financial analyst. It is even in talks with David Beckham to supply a weekly sports column.

Other elements will include puzzles, computer game reviews, 'the week ahead', 'what's in the shops' and 'crazy but true'. The Reading Room will feature book reviews and interviews with authors, while talks are ongoing about getting a GP on board for a health page.

Press day for news will be Tuesdays, with the front page decided first thing on a Wednesday. As a result, Cox says Tuesdays are a bad time to call, with Wednesdays and Thursdays best. The specialist sections are completed earlier in the cycle and these contributions will be required two weeks in advance.

PR openings
'There will be lots of PR opportunities – childhood obesity campaigns, for instance, plus lots of space for big names,' says Morgan.

Competitions are also an area in which Cox is keen for PR input, provided the prizes are major ones. For instance, the newspaper launches with a competition to win a family trip to Los Angeles. And First News is keen to hear about new products. 'We will feature kids testing alarm clocks or MP3 players, so it is useful to send new products with information on when they are out and how much they cost,' says Cox.

But what do PROs make of it? 'It's a fantastic idea, and we are keen to gain a presence in the publication,' says Rachael Lockitt, spokesperson for Alton Towers.

Morgan feels that the challenge of keeping parents happy and kids stimulated will be central to the title's success: 'It is essential for this newspaper to have the right tone: not offensive to parents, but not too safe for kids.'

First News launches with a print run of more than 300,000, a figure Morgan believes is achievable as a regular circulation within 12 months. WH Smith and Sainsbury's have agreed to stock it.

Morgan adds: 'I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want to be involved with First News. It will be a brilliant way to reach 9 to 12-year-olds who will be future consumers of newspapers, films, pop music – anything, really.'

Contacts
* Editor Nicky Cox
nicky.cox@firstnews.co.uk 
* Editorial assistant Kirsty MacDonald kirsty.macdonald@firstnews.co.uk 
* Deputy editor Kelly Austin
kelly.austin@firstnews.co.uk 
* Senior reporter (entertainment) Serena Lacey serena.lacey@firstnews.co.uk 
* Writer (sport, science and computer games) Ian Eddy ian.eddy@firstnews.co.uk
Main editorial phone number
01483 281005

Regular contributors
* Editorial director Piers Morgan
piers.morgan@firstnews.co.uk
* All celebrity columnists
newsdesk@firstnews.co.uk

* Press day is Tuesday. For content other than breaking news, the team prefers information two weeks in advance.

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