‘We’re here to inform, and reassure, and empower’: BBC’s Newsround turns 50

The iconic after school news show on the BBC, now a morning bulletin available to be shown online in schools, that took the simple idea of ​​explaining news to children is celebrating their 50th birthday.

The show was first broadcast as John Craven’s Newsround in 1972 but since then has undergone huge changes, keeping up with the times, and fidget spinners, to stay relevant, exciting and informative to children. In 2011 recording of the show moved to Media City.

While the show has played host to breaking news stories, the show was the first British television program to report on the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, Newsround’s focus is making news digestible to children.

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Talking about the 50 years Newsround has been on the air, Kirsty Adair, Assistant Editor explained how the show continues to evolve and how the Newsround team keeps the show relevant to kids. She said: “It’s still the show they’re after, it’s massively evolved over the last five, 10 years and it will continue to evolve.

Kirsty also explained how Newsround has changed with the times and how the internet has played a big part in how people access news and information.

John Craven, Newround’s first presenter in 1980s

She explained: “There’s support now that we didn’t have even a decade ago so if there’s a really scary story we’ll always put in an ‘upset by the news’ little feature where you can go to get help which is, there’s more in place to help out kids than there used to be.

“It is the bulletin they go on, online, it is still the show, they want the show. They still want to be presented with a program they are watching, they are just watching it from our website.

“We try not to scare kids with immediate news unless there’s more of an explanation around it or there’s a wider point to be made. We always say there’s nothing we wouldn’t do, everything is open to discussion.

“Speculation isn’t helpful to kids really, they want reassurance.”

Meanwhile, two presenters of the news show, Martin Dougan and Hayley Hassall spoke about the realities of reporting for children when the topic is difficult, some of their best moments, and the fun of the job.

Hayley Hassall expressed the importance of remembering their audience. She said: “I’d say that’s the main thing, possibly with all journalists, you need to listen to what they tell you. At Newsround, children are at the heart of every story and they inform us.

“We’re all so different on the Newsround team which makes us all so special and skilled at different areas but one thing we all have in common is we’re empathetic to young people and we want to listen.”

Martin Dougan described how a passion for storytelling is key to the job.

Newsround's current presenters: Jenny Lawrence, Martin Dougan, Hayley Hassall, Shanequa Paris, De'Graft Mensah, Leah Boleto, Ricky Boleto
Newsround’s current presenters: Jenny Lawrence, Martin Dougan, Hayley Hassall, Shanequa Paris, De’Graft Mensah, Leah Boleto, Ricky Boleto

“It’s listening to the young ones and having a real sort of passion for the stories that they tell and figuring out a way to tell it in a way that they can understand it and their peers can understand it, and teachers can understand it.

“We don’t try to predict what’s happening in the future as well so the news might say ‘Putin might do this’ or ‘Ukraine might do this’ or ‘act this way’, we don’t do that. It’s just sticking to the fact of what we know and what we think is important for the audience to know at that time.”

Both Martin and Hayley reported on the Manchester bombing, the Newsround studio is located in Media City and the team reported on the ground from the arena.

Martin explained how reporting on the Manchester bombing was the first time in his career on the show that he was reporting on a story which directly affected children. He said: “The Manchester bombing was the first story in my Newsround career like that that directly impacted kids. It’s kind of like Ukraine, now, it was kind of like the first time something really terrible had happened at a kids’ concert.

“That was a real challenge, but it’s funny, when something like that happens Newsround really does come up because people, it’s horrible to say but, sometimes people respond to the darker stories like Manchester bombing, Ukraine and like Covid as well.”

Newsround 25th anniversary: ​​Chris Rogers, John Craven, Julie Etchingham
Newsround 25th anniversary: ​​Chris Rogers, John Craven, Julie Etchingham

Hayley added: “That day we responded massively because there were children in schools across the country who had friends there or at least knew people there, and they definitely knew Ariana Grande so it was definitely on their radar.

“I was in at five in the morning and we ended up, not only going out to the scene to report on it for Newsround, but we were on every news outlet talking about how children will be worried and how they can find reassurance and help at Newsround online.”

Following on from the Manchester arena bombing, the Newsround team also attended the One Love concert and used the show to continue the story. Martin said: “After that we went to the One Love concert, I remember going to that one.

“That was was kind of what’s happened, why are we here, reminding kids what had happened but then saying look at what it’s brought: it’s brought people together at this one concert that has been arranged by Ariana Grande.”

He added: “I think it’s also in the edit as well when it comes to telling these [hard] news stories. What pictures you use, putting certain tones of music underneath what we’re saying.

“It’s not like that roll on 24 news where you just see bad things happening. It’s really important when we’re telling stories, the pictures we choose, the tone we choose to tell that story in.

“We actually enjoy the lighter stories as well, it’s important that we cover what’s going on in the news… the more sombre stories, the darker ones, but we actually enjoy doing it, like the animal stories.”

Both Martin and Hayley, as well as other presenters past and present have always had a knack for delighting children with their encounters with animals.

Martin often finds himself working with animals and believes the ethos of the show is what makes the job fun. He said: “Whenever I do stories with animals, they upstage me somehow, but it’s fun isn’t it because you find yourself in situations that you would normally never find yourself in.”

Newsround 30th anniversary
Newsround 30th anniversary

Hayley agreed: “I did a live next to a goose once and the goose pecked at my actual head and I’ve swum with sharks, I’ve jumped out of a plane at 21,000 feet, I’ve rescued a lion from France, two lions actually.

“It is important to make the kids laugh but it’s also important that you can show your vulnerability with them as well because if you are scared of spiders or sharks they don’t want to be told the world is perfect and they have to be brave all of the time. If we make a fool of ourselves, we can show them it’s okay.

“Everything that kids are talking about on the playground, so we had the poppits recently and the fidget spinners, you know everything that kids are into we want to show that we’re there too and we get you.”

Newsround has evolved and now the news bulletin is shown at 7:45am everyday on CBBC and is available on BBC iPlayer. It is estimated that the show is watched by two million children at least once a week and by 750,000 unique viewers online.

The bulletin has now become part of the school day with 75 percent of primary school teachers saying that they use Newsround in the classroom.

Now, in line with the show’s 50th birthday, Newsround is bringing back its press pack, which offers children the chance to have a go reporting on Newsround, creating a space for budding journalists. Newround’s hope is that children will be able to participate with news both at home and in the classroom.

Lewis James, editor of Newsround said: “We’re bringing it back again, the focus on kids being able to participate both in homes and in schools as well for primary aged kids. But also an emphasis, which I think is relevant today, on mis-information and in particular for us trying to foster an idea of ​​critical thinking on what kids receive from the news.

“We think the future of Newsround is in safe hands and we’ll be trying to do what we’ve been doing over the past few years which is trying to make sure we reach as many children as possible wherever we can find them really. Whether that’s at home or in school and making sure that they’re getting the same service that children of previous generations have had.

“You know if we’re not covering poppits or some of the things in kids’ lives, if you’re not reflecting that, then why should they trust us on Ukraine or NFTs or anything else, scientific discoveries we are covering.

“The journalists who have been part of Newsround over the years, who’ve done even more amazing things I sometimes think that’s because they’ve learned the simplification skills that being on Newsround brings because it’s a skill you learn how to communicate with people. ”

Along with this, Newsround is also launching a service for British Sign Language users. This new service will work in the same way as the current news bulletin but will be specifically designed for British Sign Language users and will launch in the spring.

Furthermore, the show is also launching three new documentaries.’Let’s Talk About Sexism’, ‘Empire and Me’, and ‘Our Queen’. All three will explore current topics in an open way which examine important issues from the perspective of children.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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