How can the news media reach young people? Tell their stories | Leah Boleto

Newsround, the children’s news programme I present, has adapted as British kids switch from TV to social media

I get to meet our viewers all the time. There’s nothing more sobering than hearing an eight-year-old’s views on Brexit. At Newsround, everything we do is aimed at children. Our job is to try to explain what’s going on in a way they can understand, keeping their minds engaged and their hands away from the exit button. When you’re competing with Baby Shark on YouTube and a million videos about flossing (the dance – not dental hygiene), it can be a real challenge, something that the BBC’s director general Tony Hall has recognised in the corporation’s annual report.

Keeping young people informed and interested in the news is what we try to do every day – and we’ve been doing it for almost 50 years. Since the early days when John Craven was its presenter, Newsround’s mission has been to cater for children as young as six, all the way up to early teens.

It’s no surprise to anyone who works in the media industry that British kids are spending less time in front of TV sets, a trend I don’t think will change. So we now focus most of our efforts on producing stories for an online audience – which is growing. But still, even today there is a huge appetite for what we do. Teachers tell me they use Newsround to keep the classroom informed and help to spark debate. After school is done for the day, keeping that audience interested in what the BBC has to offer is where the hard work really begins.

BBC News is trying to attract young people, with podcasts such as Beyond Today, an extension of the Today brand. The new BBC Sounds app is hoping to tap into the podcast revolution. Short videos on Instagram and other social media platforms attract an audience that might not have turned to the BBC before. Educating younger viewers about fake news is another issue we’ve spent a lot of time covering over the past few years, making them aware that some of the content they look at on their smartphones is completely made up.

John Craven presented Newsround between 1972 and 1989.
John Craven presented Newsround between 1972 and 1989. Photograph: BBC Pictures Archives

It’s part of my job to meet and spend time with our audience. We call them “stepping out” sessions and they give me the chance to listen to what kids are talking about in the playground, and find out how important social media is to their lives and what makes them tick. All journalists from the BBC should do this; it’s the best way to find stories and stay in touch with an ever-changing audience.

How we tell these stories and the way we deliver them is something we still need to address. The days of a newsreader sitting behind a desk are long gone. When I’m presenting Newsround, I’m talking to our viewers and sharing the latest headlines. It’s got to be personable; they don’t want to hear another teacher and they certainly don’t want to be patronised. Kids these days are so smart; they have so much choice and won’t stick around if they feel we’re talking down to them.

For me, representation has a huge role to play: making sure the BBC continues to reflect the audience and speak to communities in some of the toughest and most neglected parts of the UK. I grew up in Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest boroughs in London. Nobody in my family had been to university, we were working class and I certainly didn’t think a job in the BBC was a possibility. But then, one afternoon, I remember seeing Moira Stuart presenting the BBC evening news. She had the same skin colour as me and she was on the BBC. For me, that was a game-changer.

I hope I can one day inspire someone from a similar background to choose a career at the BBC. I’ve made it my mission to focus on children in parts of the country that we sometimes forget. Their voices are just as important and their stories need to be told.

• Leah Boleto is a presenter of Newsround on CBBC


Leah Boleto

The GuardianTramp

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