Nicky Cox was always interested in the news as a child growing up — but she wondered why there weren’t any newspapers for children.
Now editor-in chief for First News, a UK newspaper for young readers aged 7 to 14, Cox heads up a team that publishes a full-colour tabloid format every Friday, aimed at presenting current events and politics in a child-friendly format, alongside news on entertainment, sport, and computer games.
In a Webinar on Wednesday for INMA members, Cox shared the story of the First News launch and how the title has evolved over time and grown into a multi-platform offering and teaching resource for schools. Each week 2.6 million children now read First News.
The newspaper reaches more readers than The Times, The Telegraph, and The Guardian put together.
After working at several other news media organisations, including BBC Worldwide, Cox still had the idea of a newspaper for children in her mind. She assembled a team that included Piers Morgan and launched First News in 2006. Eighteen weeks later, the first print issue hit the newsstands.
“All the adult newspapers ridiculed the idea,” Cox told INMA members. “They said kids weren’t interested in the news, and if they were, they would read about it on the Internet.”
Cox thought they were wrong and that children are passionately interested in the world around them.
“They’re 27% of the world’s people, but 100% of the future. If the world is to become a better place, the next generation needs to be better informed than the last. So we pressed on.”
Launching the first UK newspaper for children
Cox reported that early sales of First News were “OK,” selling about 30,000 copies each week. The real turning point came when a teacher contacted the company to ask if they offered subscriptions for schools.
The team quickly put together a subscription package for single-copy or bulk sales to schools. It wasn’t long before school subscription sales completely eclipsed newsstand sales, and individual home subscriptions were also building.
The only issue for the school subscriptions is that they only wanted First News while school terms were in session, which entailed an adjustment to the model and varying print runs to accommodate. This is called First News Education.
Soon, nearly 10,000 schools across the UK were First News subscribers, including nearly half of all primary schools in the country. Today, the newspaper enjoys a total 2.6 million readers — more than the regular “adult” newspapers.
Advertising and editorial
“Where there’s high readership, there’s always interest in advertising,” Cox said. Because of the young age of its audience, First News is extremely careful about what type of advertising they accept.
Advertising is limited to six pages per issue and consists mostly of advertorial. They have a lot of repeat business with advertisers.
“Editorially, not only do children need a newspaper with background and context to help them understand what’s going on in the world, they also need a platform to get their own voices heard about issues that matter most to them,” Cox said.
The team began running weekly polls to get a snapshot of how their young readers were feeling about issues, using this information to help inform coverage. This coverage and the children’s’ voices help shape policy, and the British government is quite involved in what First News is doing.
Print vs. digital
While the print newspaper surpassed expectations, Cox said the team knew it needed to create a digital version as well.
“We thought it would eclipse the print newspaper. But while there was some interest in the digital version, we were wrong about how quickly our customers would exchange their printed First News for a digital version,” she said.
Most readers ended up using both. Schools overwhelmingly prefer the print edition, and many parents do as well, feeling their children already spend too much time on screens.
“But we know the digital revolution is here to stay and it’s key to growth, particularly internationally for us,” Cox said.
International edition, TV, and video
Going digital also allowed the First News team to easily create an international online edition. They now have subscribers in more than 50 countries, including many schools just like in the UK.
When it comes to a television presence, children’s changing viewing habits played a part. Young people have migrated from TV to online at a rate that’s doubled in the last few years.
“Along with these changing habits was the problem of fake news,” Cox said. “Once children are online, they very often don’t have the experience to discern the difference between real and fake news.”
Her response to this was to set up a factual children’s production company called Fresh Start Media to help navigate between factual content and misinformation. The company makes all kinds of video content now, including in countries outside the UK.
Another initiative is FYI for Sky News, a weekend news show for children. All presenters and reporters are age 10 to 15, and the news show is award-winning.
Kidversation is another project Cox is very proud of. Funded by BFI and Sky Kids, this programme is filmed around the world featuring children fighting for their rights. The content is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and takes a hard look at whether children’s rights are actually protected around the world.
“In Kidversation, children are seen and heard, and we talk to them about how the rights are manifesting themselves in their lives,” Cox said.
Fresh Start Media also produces explainer videos in a series called “I Don’t Get It.” Subscribing schools can watch any of these programmes on First News Education TV, and specially created, comprehensive educational resources are also provided.
What’s next for First News?
Cox said that’s pretty simple — more of the same.
“As the world’s leading news content creator for children, whether printed, digital, education, or TV, we’re expanding both our volume of content and our territories. Our plan is to be the one-stop global provider of news for children — and most importantly, by children.”