The tricky job of reporting politics and mass shootings to kids

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An anti-Trump rally. Photo credit: Fabrice Florin/CC 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s tough enough for journalists to cover the constantly evolving impeachment saga involving Ukraine, the Trump-Zelensky phone call, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and Rudy Giuliani. But what does it take to distill the story down so children can understand it?

TIME for Kids recently published an impeachment inquiry explainer for children in grades 3-6. 

Editor-in-chief Andrea Delbanco tells Press Play, “We did a very light explainer about the situation with the investigation with Biden, and why Nancy Pelosi is going in this direction and some of her reasoning and her words. And then we also tried to explain to children what could possibly happen next. I think one of the most important things we wanted to convey to them is that this is not an indication that we will have a different president any day now, or that there is radical instability, or that anything is very likely to change very quickly.”

The editorial decision-making process 

Delbanco explains that when staff members discuss what’s in the news and what they should cover, they consider five questions: 

1) Is it topically age appropriate? 

2) Is it relevant or of interest to young readers? 

3) Can the story be brought up in a classroom? 

4) How to support teachers when kids pose questions?

“We are writing to students all across the country in different schools. And that requires a different standard of making sure we are doing things that are appropriate both from a grade level perspective, and also just from a social and emotional perspective,” she says. 

5) How to give kids a sense of agency, optimism, and involvement?

“We always want to be able to find some way to provide context and information that is slightly reassuring and clear, but also doesn't talk down to them or make any promises that we wouldn't be able to deliver on and predict any future outcomes,” she says. 

Is TIME for Kids journalism or educational material?

Delbanco says her staff delivers journalism that is fact-based and authoritative, and they’re trying to teach kids how to best understand and recognize authentic journalism. 

“What we don't do is take an opinion or put any kind of persuasive content in without very clearly labeling it,” she points out.

The trickiest story to cover

Delbanco says the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida was the biggest challenge for her during her 14 years at the magazine. 

The first question was whether to even cover it. Historically, TIME for Kids avoided covering school shootings due to the upsetting nature of the topic (for both kids and teachers). 

However, TIME for Kids broke with tradition this time. 

“It felt like a critical mass, and a critical moment, and something that we just couldn't ignore,” Delbanco says. 

TIME for Kids also had a perfect angle into it: children were being vocal in the aftermath of the shooting. They were meeting with their legislators, getting together to discuss what was important, and being heard. 

“Rather than focusing on the horror, which we lightly touched on, we wanted to show them that even these young kids were able to make change, and demand that their schools be more safe, and have their voices heard on a national level,” she says. 

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski