A president’s impeachment, Brexit, and a global pandemic; 2020 has been a year of big, and unprecedented, changes. It has been more important than ever to stay informed with global news, and audiences have a seemingly endless choice of platforms and sources. Yet, Stephanie Kelmar and her colleagues believe there is a demographic that is still largely ignored.
“Until recently, children have been a wildly underserved demographic when it comes to age-appropriate news,” says Kelmar, a veteran broadcast journalist who co-founded children’s news podcast KidNuz with fellow reporters and parents Rosemarie Schwarz, Tori Campbell, and Kimberly Hunter.
Kelmar came up with the idea when her then eight-year-old son was interested in learning about the world and would go to look at the family’s copy of the New York Times. She decided to find news platforms that were more age-appropriate, but she had little luck.
Launched in 2018, KidNuz presents its listeners with a short news bulletin, no longer than 10 minutes, covering the day's headlines going live at 7am every weekday in the US, eastern time - just before the school run.
The podcast aims to satisfy children's curiosities about the world by offering news round-ups without opinion or political bias. Each episode ends with a quiz on the day's stories to help children think critically about what they have just heard.
Although KidNuz's listenership is mainly between the ages of eight and 12, children as young as five, and even adults, listen in.
Kelmar says that the show has an audience of up to tens of thousands but notes that, as a considerable amount of listeners are teachers, it is hard to know exactly how many children they are reaching.
The podcast also attracts an international audience, despite being produced in the US and mainly focusing on national news.
The best platform to reach children
All four journalists worked together on San Francisco-based morning show KVTU-TVs Mornings On 2, but none had previous experience with podcasts.
Despite her fifteen-years of experience in television news production, Kelmar says no other platform was considered because, as a parent, she would rather her children consume news screen-free.
Podcasts, she argues, represent an opportunity for children to gain auditory learning and use their "rich imaginations". The medium also lets people listen in groups, giving parents or teachers a way to kick-start conversations about the world.
Even though more outlets are producing news for children, few are using podcasts, instead opting for TV or print platforms.
An independent venture
KidNuz set out as a for-profit business at first, but pivoted to a not-for-profit company a year later. The four co-founders, board members and interns all work on a voluntary basis.
"The four co-founders are all mothers who lead very busy lives, doing other projects as well as volunteering," Kelmar explains.
"We've also recently begun filling our advisory board roles with experts in the fields of education and law. Each of them provides indispensable advice to help us make important decisions as we move forward and grow."
Its independence means it can concentrate on its core values of being entertaining and accurate for kids. But monetisation options have proved limited.
To fund the show, one of KidNuz's five weekly episodes are sponsored. It also accepts listener donations on the website and is now seeking grant opportunities. Whilst the podcast is independently run, Kelmar believes that larger networks could follow their model.
Finding the right balance
Bulletins contain a mix of news stories about politics, current events, or science, with inspiring humanity stories, for example, about people doing charitable work or helping animals.
It tries not to focus on negative stories and topics which do not affect children. Far from ignoring serious subjects however, in recent months the podcast has turned its focus to the US presidential elections, covid 19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Remaining factual and non-partisan, Kelmar adds, is vital as to not seed divisive views in impressionable audiences. Picking the right language is also important, balancing familiar vocabulary with new concepts.
“A lot of kids’ news tends to talk down to the children or put the news in a sing-song delivery,” Kelmar concludes. “We like to talk to children like we talk to our own kids.”
KidNuz podcast is available on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn and KidNuz’s website