Media: Reach children via First News

Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and his shadow counterparts Michael Gove (Conservative) and David Laws (Liberal Democrats) recently found themselves facing a tough audience.

One hundred First News readers aged from seven to 14 grilled them on how they would fix problems that affected them.

Setting up this debate is one of the ways that First News, the national weekly newspaper for children, is bringing 'adult' news stories alive for young people.

First News' position in the market as the only national paper for children makes it a crucial target for PR professionals looking to reach a younger audience.

The newspaper was launched in 2006 and aims to explain and provide context to major news stories for young people.

It hits the news-stands every Friday, but it is also available in one in four schools, which pushes its readership figure to 763,800 (source: YouGov).

Editor Nicky Cox, who received an MBE for her services to children in June 2009, says her title does not have a direct competitor.

She believes it is unique because it is the only newspaper for its target audience, it caters for both boys and girls equally, and has an unusually broad age range (seven to 14 years) for a child-focused title.

'We pitch our stories in the middle of the range, with 11- to 12-year-olds in mind,' she says.

Save The Children's head of PR Rosie Shannon says: 'It's our number one port of call for news stories aimed at children.

'It is always at the front of our minds when we are brainstorming campaigns.'

Beattie Communications' account director Claire Briscoe, who heads the agency's specialist child PR division, agrees: 'First News is an invaluable title for us in reaching a young audience.

'It seems to have steadily built its audience base and has managed to survive a difficult period by knowing what makes its audience tick.'

Avoiding patronising the reader, she adds, is key to a successful pitch. 'Before working in PR, I worked in children's television and I learned early on in my career that the worst thing you can do is talk down to, or underestimate, children. First News has the Newsround factor - it does not patronise, but is not scared to deal with difficult subjects,' says Briscoe.

Getting children to write the story is another good way to gain coverage, advises Shannon. 'We often provide case studies from a child or get child campaigners to write their own story,' she says.

Briscoe says images and case studies also aid the success of a story pitch: 'It's vital to think about how your pitch will work visually before you approach the journalists. Having strong case studies of children to back up stories is also something that has worked well for us in the past.'

QUICK FACTS
Circulation: 39,450 (ABC, January-December 2009)
Frequency: Weekly (on news-stands Friday)
Website: firstnews.co.uk; 20,660 unique users in March (ABCE)
Launched: 2006
Contact: newsdesk@firstnews.co.uk or firstname.surname@firstnews.co.uk
01483 281005

A MINUTE WITH ... Nicky Cox, editor, First News

- How and when should PROs contact the editorial team?

Email is best. Then we can read what it is about first. The best time to contact us is on a Tuesday afternoon when we start planning the next edition, or on a Wednesday. But if it is a big news story, then we can take calls right up until we go to press.

- What should PROs avoid?

Do not phone me on a Tuesday morning when we are going to press at midday.

- Can you give an example of a good story for First News?

We had one recently that ticked all the boxes. Our readers like stories about animals.

So we wrote about a sniffer dog based in Afghanistan who had been awarded a medal.

It had the 'aww factor', but it was also a good angle on a big international news story.

Our coverage of the election explains what an MP is, what a general election is and what a constituency is. We put all the stories in context.

- Do you have any other products?

We produce a magazine for teachers that is sent with our subscription copies to schools. In this, for example, we have a calendar of events that are happening that could be the basis for a lesson plan.

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