From newsroom to classroom

A paper for schoolchildren is launched next week. Can it succeed where others have failed?

With newspaper readership in decline, the need to attract new generations of readers has never been greater. So the launch of a national newspaper targeting eight- to 13-year-olds couldn't have come at a better time, right? Industry stalwarts are not so sure.

A monthly tabloid called TheNewspaper will hit the school desks later this month. Developed by Young Media, a publishing company set up by three working teachers, it will be distributed free - initially to 3,000 secondary and primary schools across the UK.

With plans to expand the initial print run of 300,000 to three million in September when it goes national, Young Media's plans are ambitious. But with private investment to get it off the ground and interest from advertisers including Cadbury, Cable & Wireless, Tetley, and Channel 4, they are confident they can succeed.

Co-founder Hayley Hobbs, an English teacher, believes there is a need for a kids' newspaper that can be used as part of the National Curriculum, then taken home to enjoy. "Teachers use newspapers in the classroom, but even with bright 11-year-olds it can be hard," she says. "Tabloids are often inappropriate, the broadsheets in another league. Even mid-market titles like The Express and the Daily Mail can prove difficult because of their content and style."

TheNewspaper is a 24-page colour tabloid with a lively mix of home and world news, sport, celebrity gossip, environmental issues, health, IT, book reviews from Amazon, and arts information from the Tate. Kids will also get the chance to see their own journalism in print.

Material will be produced by journalists from regional and national newspapers including the London Evening Standard and The Express. Managing editor Joyce Quarrie, whose background is in contract publishing, oversees style and content, but direction and tone is shaped by an editorial board that includes Hobbs and her co-founders, teachers Busfy Whiting and Jenny Macdonald.

For meeting the tastes and expectations of the teachers who will distribute it will be key. And Young Media must perfect a delicate balancing act. Using educational publishing distribution house Hamilton House, TheNewspaper will be couriered to schools each month at no cost to recipients. To be effectively distributed, it must be endorsed by teachers - but not to the extent that potential readers are turned off.

Long-term viability depends on advertising and sponsorship. Hobbs denies that this could cause ethical problems. "Advertorial will be prominently labelled and adverts will avoid selling specific products."

At one level, prospects look rosy. "Advertisers are eager to get into the classroom, and parents are increasingly positive about commercial involvement so long as it is supportive and responsible," says Philip Walker, head of media consultancy Initiative.

But in other respects, TheNewspaper faces a struggle. "Young people do not read newspapers - fact," says George Kelly, project director at consults CMC International. Previous attempts, even with major newspaper backing, have had only limited success. While The Times' Funday Times has become a regular feature, other papers, including The Independent, have tested the water and withdrawn.

Whether Young Media has the staying power to buck the trend remains to be seen. And if it doesn't? Well, there's always the Web.

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