Gateway for teens into complex issues

Gateway for teens into complex issues

Schools get three curated stories every day explaining the issues behind the news

Gateway for teens into complex issues

It is Friday at the Holland Park School in West London, which means it is time for personal, social, health and economic education.

“Sometimes we cover drug awareness. Sometimes we use that time to reflect on current affairs,” said Andrea James, the head of guidance. The large comprehensive school, which is state-funded and open to the public, has 1,400 students who speak 90 languages.

Students are placed into small groups and given a sheaf of freshly printed stories from The Day, a two-year-old venture that describes itself as “a daily online newspaper for teenagers focusing on the big issues that are transforming the world.”
With 670 British schools subscribing, the Web site has just “turned the magic corner from costing money every month to not costing money,” said Richard Addis, the newspaper’s founder and editor in chief.

 Addis, who spent two years training to be an Anglican monk before going on to senior positions at The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express in Britain, plus The Globe and Mail in Canada, said he decided to start a newspaper for students after noticing a “vast gulf of incomprehension” in the way the media reported complex stories.

“All the mass media assumed people knew more than they actually do,” he said in an interview in the office he rents from The Week, a British news magazine.

“People didn’t understand complex stories, so they didn’t bother to read them,” said  Addis, whose boyish looks and careful manners make him seem more like an academic than a hard-driving journalist. “Since nobody read them, the media gave up writing them in order to concentrate on simple stories like George Clooney’s sex life or which football player had too much to drink.”

“Celebrity, sport and human interest still sell papers,”  Addis said, “but if nobody understands the real stories, and nobody can be bothered to explain them, we’ll all be less well informed.”

Working with a former colleague from The Financial Times, where  Addis had been editor of the Weekend section, he set up The Day, whose motto is “Explaining Matters.”

Backed by a small group of investors,  Addis has marketed the project to schools, which pay 39 pence, or about 60 cents, per student for a basic package of daily stories, quizzes and classroom resources.

The 99-pence premium package includes photo spreads, in-class journalism workshops and translations into French, German, Spanish and Italian for use in language classes. Schools get three curated stories every day explaining the issues behind the news, plus access to an archive of past articles. The platform is designed to be A4-printer-friendly, though many teachers put the articles up on white boards, or interactive displays connected to a computer.

No advertisements

The newspaper has no advertisements, which appeals to Stephen Adcock, assistant principal at Burlington Danes Academy, an inner-city London school that was one of The Day’s first subscribers. “It was quite typical for teachers to just pick up 25 copies of The Metro,” said Adcock, referring to a tabloid distributed for free outside the city’s bus and subway stations. “But that’s a very commercial paper, full of adverts. Also the content isn’t necessarily aimed at teenagers.”

Adcock said his school used The Day at least three times a week. “We have a daily tutor group session every morning, and the tutors use it to focus discussion of current affairs,” he said. “But we also use it in specific subjects. A science teacher might look for stories about genetic engineering, for example.”

Both he and James said their schools also tapped the BBC, which has a range of Web sites developed specifically for schools and which also does not have advertising.
“What used to happen was that when teachers were supposed to discuss current affairs some of them would just switch on the BBC,” James said. “The content is great but it’s very passive, and you can do that at home. I wanted to move away from that pattern.”

 Adcock said that students were exposed to lots of media, although much of it was of questionable quality.

“And though they are required to read The Day, they seem to enjoy it,” he said. “There is a real appetite for finding out about the world. They want to engage, but they don’t know where to start, or how to find the relevant information. This gives them a way in.”

James said she wanted more for students than just a way to understand complex stories. “I’m hoping it allows us to give students a route into pursuing their interest in journalism,” she said.

 Addis also wants to encourage student journalists. First, though, he has to keep The Day growing. More than 80 per cent of subscribers renew, he said, and his current readership of nearly 6,00,000 means The Day “is seen by about twice as many readers as Top of the Pops Magazine, the country’s best-selling title for teenagers.

In September, he is hoping to introduce another Web site — “a kind of kids’ version of The Huffington Post” — edited by adults but written by and for teenagers. “You wouldn’t be allowed to write for it if you’re over 19,” he said.