In July 2011, Norway was shocked and horrified by the terrorist attack in Oslo’s government quarter and on the island of Utøya. Naturally, Norwegian children had many questions about what happened, and parents and teachers struggled to find the words to explain the incidents in a way the young ones could understand.
It was about this time that the idea of launching a newspaper for kids arose in Aftenposten. The first edition came out in the spring of 2012, coinciding with the opening of the trial against the terrorist responsible. That was the start of explaining a many difficult and complicated news incidents, which is what Aftenposten Junior still does today.
As editor, I get to meet a lot of curious and smart kids with thoughtful (and challenging!) questions. I promise you, I have the most interesting and meaningful job!
A huge success
At the time of the launch, some critical voices said a print edition would never gain popularity. Adult print newspapers had been declining for years, and there were even darker clouds ahead. Children were embracing digital services such as games and social media, and getting young ones to read a newspaper seemed like an impossible mission.
Eight years later though, it is safe to say that Aftenposten Junior has become a huge success. The circulation numbers steadily rose and have now stabilised at around 30,000. The brand Aftenposten Junior is well known among Norwegian children, to the extent that the editorial staff receive enormous amounts of e-mails and letters every week.
But how did this all happen?
Over the last years, user research has become a very important discipline in all product development. For Aftenposten Junior, the editorial team was involved in user research right from the beginning, and it became apparent this was a crucial part of the methodology to write engaging news stories for a young audience. Instead of doing user research now and then, it is a continuous process that involves the readers at all times.
In the research, our journalists ask kids how much they know about a news story and what they would like to know. Later, the journalists have kids read the finished story to pinpoint difficult words. After a while, the concept of “Aftenposten Junior reporters” also emerged. Kids would interview top politicians and celebrities, and they had the most brilliant questions.
When writing for kids, there are certain challenges our staff writers are very good at solving. For example, there might be a lot of historical aspects to a story, like when writing about George Floyd this summer. To sum up centuries of history and social studies in a very short text is harder than you think. The tough nut is to simplify the language without losing important details and nuances. Often, our journalists rewrite the text several times with their editor before it’s good to go.
The presentation of the news stories is also a very important part of Aftenposten Junior’s success. Visual elements trigger most children’s reading desire. Outstanding photos from Aftenposten’s photographers, striking illustrations, and extensive use of infographics make the pages look inviting and give the readers a lot of information without overwhelming them with text. The cartoon format is also a good way to explain complex issues, as it combines several illustrations with small text pieces.
A growing family
The Aftenposten Junior universe has grown bigger than only a print newspaper. For several years, Aftenposten Junior hosted different events, like the wildly popular Minikloden. The successful cartoon, Grønne greier, launched two hardcover books, one of them in South Korea. Aftenposten Junior is also producing a podcast, Juniorrådet, where kids talk about big and small challenges, like being nervous before a performance or falling in love. This fall we will also launch a news podcast.
In 2015, there was a new addition to the family, with the launch of sister newspaper SvD Junior from Svenska Dagbladet in Sweden. The two editorial teams cooperate on some of the content. In 2019, another Junior was born when Postimees Juunior launched in Estonia.
The spring of 2020 was a very special time all over the world because of the COVID-19 situation. In Norway, all of the schools shut down on March 12. The day after, Aftenposten Junior announced that we opened the paywall on our digital edition so all children in Norway could have access to reliable information at a time when their lives were turned upside down.
Teachers were ecstatic they could give their pupils engaging reading assignments, and we noticed some teachers made questions, puzzles, and quizzes tied to the editions. They said they loved the current news stories that spoke directly to the kids, and that it taught them important things in a fun way.
A big digital leap
During the time of homeschooling, teachers and pupils took a big leap in their usage of digital equipment and services. In fact, there were close to 800,000 openings of the digital editions of Aftenposten Junior during the period when the schools were closed.
This gave us the idea of making a special digital product for schools, where teachers could easily find the content they were looking for and share it with their classes. After extensive UX research, the team for Aftenposten Junior skole is now on its way to creating a full-on educational resource. This is timed well with the introduction of a brand-new curriculum in Norway’s schools — one that is supposed to encourage the use of current events.
So, the future looks bright for Aftenposten Junior. Even though breaking news is faster than ever and the number of news sources is plentiful, there is still a need for a good explanation of current events. This might be why grown-ups tell me all the time that when they read Aftenposten Junior to their kids, they finally understand what that story was all about.