Do You Have Time for Kids’ Issues?
Last fall, Children’s PressLine sent its young reporters to Boston and New York for the Democratic and Republican conventions. Children’s PressLine election coverage appeared in The Daily News, The Boston Globe, Alternet.org, and Connect for Kids.
Katina Paron, Children’s PressLine’s editorial and program director, talked with Youth Media Reporter about how she pitched stories to national outlets, and what a youth perspective added to mainstream election coverage.
Q: Why did Children’s PressLine choose to send reporters to the convention?
A: Children’s PressLine—it used to be Children’s Express—has covered every major political convention since 1976. We train our kids so that they are journalists, reporters, and editors, but we always try to get them to think of themselves as advocates for their peers first.
We let them know that they are part of the media, and since the media is such a powerful tool, it’s their obligation as young people and as journalists to talk to their peers in need and ask politicians how they will be responsible to those young people.
We’ve done hundreds of interviews with young people facing really intense issues, and we can’t pass up the opportunity to say to politicians, “You are accountable to these young people.” The conventions were a concentrated time to bring those voices of the young people we talk to directly to the politicians.
Q: How did you pitch The Daily News?
A: We started a conversation with The Daily News in April or May. We had done a convention supplement with them in 1992, and I said, “Remember us in 1992? Can we cover this convention for you too?”
But when I first called, I couldn’t get an answer. They didn’t know what they’d be interested in by us, but the newspaper’s education editor did pitch the idea to the executive editor. He said OK to her, which opened the path for me to call him directly and get a verbal affirmation from him.
But I didn’t hear back, even after leaving several messages with him. So I called his secretary and said that the editor had already accepted the idea and I just needed to know who I should talk to since I can’t get hold of him. I was persistent. I said, “We already got an OK on this, I just need a confirmation of the OK.”
They sent me to another lead editor, and he really liked the idea of having a kid’s perspective on the convention. It’s so hard to get news at the convention and kids’ perspectives on the convention is news made interesting.
After we got confirmation, I said to the executive editor, “You agreed to run our stuff deadline. What do you want us to run?” I didn’t know they’d want it to be daily. But we ended up running a daily reporter’s notebook on the convention from a kids’ perspective and it got picked up by Alternet.org.
It was a little snarky and smart-alecky. When one kid asked a delegate at the RNC, “What’s the job of a delegate?” he said, “Just as long as we don’t pick our noses when the camera is on us.”
Another 13-year-old went to an event and they tried to serve him alcohol. That’s interesting for the general public to be reading that, to hear from a kid’s point of view that this is politics today, this is what these kids are seeing. It gives readers a sense that there is no news at the conventions, that this is a series of parties. To put these young people who aren’t jaded in a room with all these politicians and delegates and to have a young person tell it like it is, it gave readers an unusual perspective on the convention.
Q: While many youth media organizations work with teens, Children’s PressLine works with kids who range from ages 8–18. How do the politicians react to being interviewed by such young people?
A: The politicians have always been respectful to the young people because they’re young and cute, and because they’re young and have something to say, and because they’re trained journalists and have press credentials. When the kids see a politician they run up to them and say, “Do you have time for kids’ issues?” If they say, “I don’t have time for kids’ issues,” and walk away, it looks really bad.
And when you see kids ages 818 who are briefed on the issues approach politicians with intelligent questions, it reminds politicians that kids are their constituents, and even if kids can’t vote, they have to work on their behalf.
Katina Paron, editorial and program director of Children’s PressLine, talks about youth perspectives on election coverage.