BBC World Service has launched a new television programme for young people in Africa, aiming to give 11-16 year olds a chance to tell their own stories and find out more about the world's issues.
What's New?, which is part of the BBC's investment for new programming in Africa, covers news and current affairs specifically for children across the continent – the first time an international broadcaster has done this.
"We know that from talking to young people in Africa, they are not just interested in where they live, they are also interested in world events,” said Harriet Oliver, editor, What’s New?.
“We are aiming to educate them in what's going on around them, and encourage them to take an interest in news at a young age."
The weekly show, which covers hard-hitting issues from floods to fake news, is broadcasted around Africa in countries including Kenya, Namibia and Nigeria, and is presented from a new immersive, virtual studio.
“This technology particularly appeals to young people as we can do exciting things such as turning the studio into a football pitch or the sea shore,” said Oliver, explaining that her team are experimenting to see how best they can create engaging visuals for young people.
“It is an opportunity for us as an organisation to really try this technology out – I think the BBC would like to roll this out more widely, so we’re the guinea pigs, if you like, which is a fantastic thing."
The episodes, which are published every Saturday, contain 3D graphics, colourful visuals, text and infographics all designed to make the coverage informative yet fun for younger viewers.
There are three regular segments to the show, presented by Debula Kemoli and Ben Hunte: 'Behind the Headlines', which explores a news story in more depth, 'My Story', where young people get a chance to tell their own stories about their lives, school and what they enjoy doing, and 'The Big Interview', which features a famous person or figure to talk about their work.
"We have a dialogue with children, and whenever you do that, you start to appreciate the level you need to tell stories at,” said Oliver, explaining that the team have a range of reporters across the continent travelling to schools, interviewing students and filming the news packages.
"By talking to them, you get a good sense of the understanding they have, how to pitch things, and the sort of issues they want us to cover.
“We've also been working with the CBBC's Newsround team, drawing on their experience in telling stories in a relatable way for children."
Developing a network of communication is important to the What’s New? team. However, because its target audience includes children under 13, the reporters are not allowed to interact with them on social media. Instead, they are hoping to build up relationships with schools, which is somehing they are already doing through the BBC School Report network.
“At the moment, we are slightly reliant on word of mouth from our teams who are working in Africa, and we’ve had positive feedback so far, but this is a big area of work for us. It’s a challenge and it will take a little bit longer, but it’s a priority” said Oliver.
In terms of format, virtual reality is the way to go for our target audience. Using visual elements to really get them engaged is unique.Debula Kemoli, What's New?
The What’s New? team are looking to work towards being two to three weeks ahead of schedule, as in-depth features and explainer pieces form the majority of the coverage.
This is because the show gets broadcasted through a range of partner stations, so it often gets published across Africa at different times which can be days apart. Therefore, breaking news, although important to the team, won’t be relied upon for stories.
"Our week starts on a Friday where we discuss what to put out the following week, and by Tuesday, most of the material will be ready for us to have a rehearsal," Kemoli said, noting that on Wednesday, the team pre-record the show, keeping Thursday for pick-ups and social media promotion.
"I am really proud of this product – I grew up in Kenya and don't remember a news programme dedicated to kids.
"In terms of format, virtual reality is the way to go for our target audience. Using visual elements to really get them engaged is unique."
"We are blessed with time as we have a week to make sure everything is the best it can be, which is great while we are experimenting with this new technology," says Hunte.
"The future of this programme is going to be moulded over the next few months and years, we will have to wait and see."
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