Straits Times makes sense of the pandemic for young readers

By Serene Luo

Singapore Press Holdings

Singapore

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Reams of newsprint and exabytes of Web pages, WhatsApp messages, posters, photos, and videos have been devoted to the coverage of coronavirus-related information.

But little of it was written or designed for young readers. 

The Straits Times Schools team noted this and made it a priority to ensure that young people were not left out of this vital conversation.

Interestingly, some of the first ways youth first came into contact with the subject was through memes and fake news, which did not help them understand what was happening and the seriousness of the situation. 

Coverage of the pandemic was designed to help younger readers understand the changing world around them.
Coverage of the pandemic was designed to help younger readers understand the changing world around them.

We knew that we wanted to engage young readers because they could be part of a national solution. Through previous engagements, we knew they consumed Little Red Dot and IN content deeply and with clarity, and took those messages home to their families. By engaging them — making them ambassadors for critical emergency messages — they could help keep their families, friends, and communities safe. 

Empowering them by providing knowledge of current affairs and global trends is one of the ST Schools team’s long-term goals. We tapped one of our strengths: transforming big ideas into digestible chunks in a way so young people can understand them. 

Breaking it down for younger readers

Our approach was carefully thought out and took three specific approaches:

1. We tailored news articles, quizzes, and explainers about the pandemic for readers ages 10 to 16. The content addressed their questions and filled gaps in understanding that empowered them to help themselves and others. Topics ranged from finance and politics to mental wellness.

We were lucky to be able to work with partners at Singapore’s Ministry of Education to put out entire issues of IN that went to all secondary school students — about 165,000 of them — that took a good look at the issues at hand. We also reflected the worries and concerns of students who were graduating from polytechnics and universities in the midst of a pandemic. 

A "choose your own adventure" approach was an effective way to teach young readers about the consequences of their choices during COVID-19.
A "choose your own adventure" approach was an effective way to teach young readers about the consequences of their choices during COVID-19.

2. We provided some content for free to all public school teachers in support of Singapore’s move to complete home-based learning that lasted for over a month. The teachers used our content as a basis for their lessons, giving students an up-to-date view of world affairs while also addressing their curricula needs.

Content was provided free to teachers to help them create lessons about the coronavirus.
Content was provided free to teachers to help them create lessons about the coronavirus.

This move created goodwill among our main customers who make buying decisions: teachers. We wanted teachers and students to continue using our content, building news-reading habits, despite not going to school physically. 

3. We used social media to engage with students age 17 and up, with a focus on peer support and mental health. During the period of stay-home learning, we aimed to be a “friend” who could provide sound advice, support, and reliable news in their social media feeds.

From contacts on the ground, we knew this group has been under more stress than usual due to the changes in school routines, pressures of altered family dynamics and, in general, the pains of growing up. We wanted this part of the campaign to be a voice that would help them through the additional stress of a lockdown. 

Measurable results

Our print campaign reached more than 201,000 students and increased our reach among school teachers. We used Instagram polls to derive more information about our readers, then tailored our content to their needs and interests.

Content created for students was incredibly well-read during the pandemic.
Content created for students was incredibly well-read during the pandemic.

This was a learning experience for us and a way to engage with the reader like never before. It was an opportunity to reach new customers and audiences, as schools that did not subscribe to us were looking for appropriate content for their students. 

We also learned a lot about new student audiences based on what they responded to online and so on. What we learned through all of this is that even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the world, there are ways we can continue to serve our audiences while learning more about them. 

About Serene Luo

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