Citizenship: Young reporters who are making the news

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The Independent Online

Children's Express started in 1995 as a young people's news agency, dedicated both to helping young people learn through journalism, and – by getting their work published – to making sure the youth voice is heard in mainstream media. About 300 children are now involved, supported by 15 full-time staff, and the project has a a main office in London, subsidiary ones in Newcastle and Belfast, and part-time ones in Birmingham, Plymouth, Sheffield and Blackburn. It also runs outreach projects to ensure that it draws in children from all social backgrounds.

Children's Express started in 1995 as a young people's news agency, dedicated both to helping young people learn through journalism, and – by getting their work published – to making sure the youth voice is heard in mainstream media. About 300 children are now involved, supported by 15 full-time staff, and the project has a a main office in London, subsidiary ones in Newcastle and Belfast, and part-time ones in Birmingham, Plymouth, Sheffield and Blackburn. It also runs outreach projects to ensure that it draws in children from all social backgrounds.

Simon Wicks, online staff journalist with the project, says that the young journalists "learn about the world and how society works. And they get the confidence that comes with having their work published".

Now the project is planning to take material from its archive of more than 500 stories, and develop this as an online resource for teaching about citizenship.

"We had a story about joyriders," says Wicks. "So we've used that as a basis for a pilot lesson plan covering two lessons, with activities that may touch on other areas, and useful Web addresses. Our unique aspect is that it's children doing it. It's their voice, and this tends to resonate more powerfully with young people than the usual adult material."

Also, he points out, young reporters get different stories from adult ones. After the country's youngest teenage mother was pilloried in the press, for example, Children's Express journalists managed to get her to talk passionately and revealingly about how she felt she had been treated by the media.

Other areas that will be covered in lesson plans are homelessness, family relationships, youth crime, children's rights and Parliament and politics. However, the agency is still working to raise the £25,000 it needs to set the system up.

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