So Piers has a new paper. But will the children play along?

On The Press
Click to follow
The Independent Online

As a child I was allowed to have my weekly Eagle comic (Dan Dare, Luck of the Legion, etc) if I also read the Children's Newspaper. This had the dour, text-packed appearance of the serious broadsheets of the day. It reflected the attitude to children at the time: it was more important for it to be good for you than enjoyable. First News, on the other hand - the weekly newspaper launched by the former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan on Friday - owes its style to the tabloids, and it wants to be fun as well as informative.

The men behind the titles are at least as different from each other. Conceived by Arthur Mee, the Children's News was published from 1919 until 1965. Its companion was the Children's Encyclopaedia, a book that was also on my shelf. Mee left school at 14 and worked as a mainstream journalist before devoting most of his life to children's journalism. He had strong Christian values and saw part of his role as communicating moral standards to young people.

Piers Morgan is no Arthur Mee. The question is not so much whether First News is the Children's Newspaper for the 21st century as whether there is any market for a children's newspaper today. First News, aimed at eight- to 12-year-olds and with 300,000 copies distributed, is a colourful 24-page tabloid. It is lavishly illustrated, with bite-sized stories and celebs including David Beckham to Shayne Ward.

Morgan (three children, aged five to 12), now an emerging publishing magnate, has lent his legendary enthusiasm, energy and contacts to First News. He has sensibly brought in an editor with massive experience of children's magazine publishing, Nicky Cox (four children, aged four to 12), who is a true believer. She speaks of finding her daughter in tears after dreaming of chickens and thinking we'll all catch bird flu. First News would reassure her with the facts.

The new paper has the enormous advantage of Morgan's contacts. How many new publications are launched at a Downing Street party hosted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Cox says Morgan spoke to him and he loved the idea.

When I call her, Cox is in Gordon Brown's office, enthusing about Shayne Ward being the first pop star to sing live in Downing Street. Brown's endorsement of a commercial product is clearly consistent with his cuddly, fatherly rebranding, and not a bad way of distancing himself from election night and its fallout.

Morgan has been able to call in Posh and Becks, Richard Branson, Esther Rantzen and Unicef. All say it is a good project. Five pence of the £1 cover price goes to children's charities. First News is wholesome. Rantzen's problem column would not offend Arthur Mee. Sam, 10, is trying to pluck up courage to tell a boy at school she loves him. Esther advises: "First love can be hard to manage and discuss. Friends and family can be useful in providing good advice and tips."

Morgan will be working his contacts book to produce a weekly interview. The first is Shayne Ward; the next one, Simon Cowell. Morgan asks Ward what he thinks of the Royal Family. "They're pretty cool," says Ward. He thinks kids want to know what's going on in the world.

Such kids are able to read articles on "Local elections explained" and "What is a political party?"

There will be nothing salacious in First News. Cox points to her coverage of John Prescott's affairs. Good Week/Bad Week includes 13 words on the subject: "Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has been having problems in his private life." What are problems in your private life, Mummy? It was sensible to avoid a Kid Slickers column on pocket money.

I do not believe children no longer read and are interested only in celebrities. Nor do I blame them for lack of interest in politics. If First News is about educating and informing entertainingly, then good luck to it. The benchmark is BBC TV's Newsround, which has managed to be informative, entertaining and not patronising. First News has to aim for the same.

It probably costs too much. The kids won't produce the £1 a week; it will be the parents. And we all know the sort of parents who might. They will need to be impressed by First News. You can have your Bliss, Chloe, just so long as you read First News as well. We'll see.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Comments