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April 9, 2020, 12:22 p.m.

In an uncertain time, The Week Junior informs children without scaring them about the world we live in

“It’s our mission to bring the news of the world to children every week, no matter what’s happening in the world.”

At a time when coronavirus dominates news coverage, I have to admit that I don’t know much about anything happening in the world that isn’t related to the virus that’s ravaging cities and industries, including our own.

But you know who’s probably more informed than I am? Readers of The Week Junior, the newsweekly by The Week for kids ages 8 to 14. The Week Junior first launched in the U.K. in November 2015 and just launched its U.S. edition on March 18.

And while Andrea Barbalich, editor-in-chief of the U.S. edition, didn’t plan on debuting during a pandemic, with her entire staff of 10 people working remotely, it’s provided them a perfect opportunity to demonstrate why families need The Week Junior.

“Obviously, news of the day right now is the coronavirus,” she said. “We need to be talking about that to kids because it’s the No. 1 thing that’s happening in the world and it’s also upended children’s lives. They’re out of school. Their activities have been canceled. Their parents are working from home or they’re continuing to go to work in jobs that can seem dangerous if they’re children, if their parents work in hospitals.”

That’s why the first issue focused on acts of kindness. Rather than writing about the guy who hoarded 80,000 medical masks, they instead wrote about how Massachusetts families started a fundraiser to feed children who would lose meals to school closures.

Each issue is colorful and smartly laid out to cover the week’s big story, roundups of national and international news, sports, entertainment, science, technology, and an evergreen issue to debate. PDF versions of the first four issues are available for free download here.

“It’s our mission to bring the news of the world to children every week, no matter what’s happening in the world,” Barbalich said. “We are following the news every day the way everyone else says and thinking in our heads every week, ‘How are we bringing the stories that are happening to our audience of eight to 14 year olds?’ So we’re just very focused on that, in terms of what is the child going to be interested in this week and how we’re going to tell those stories in a way that is age appropriate, interesting, and engaging.”

Pandemic aside, it’s odd to launch a print magazine for a demographic that has only lived through the decline of newspapers and print publications. The Week CEO Kerin O’Connor pointed out that ,while print products in general are declining, the hostile news cycle requires children to have a heightened skillset: literacy, critical thinking, and curiosity. Junior is designed to help work around and build on those three skills.

“It’s something that’s highly democratic because it’s really important that everybody learns how to read,” O’Connor said. “Reading smashes the class barrier. It smashes academic barriers. It’s a lot of firepower. Once you read, you feel better in reducing stress. So for us, there’s this sense of mission is incredibly important to the way that we work.”

In 2020, The Week Junior joins the ranks of other children-focused publications in the U.S. like Time for Kids and Scholastic News Magazine. In 2017, The New York Times launched a monthly print-only “New York Times for Kids” section that appears in the last Sunday paper of the month. Weekly kids publications are more common in many other countries, like the Crinkling News of Australia, which we wrote about a few years back.

Four issues in, the U.S. edition of The Week Junior has 25,000 subscribers. The older U.K. edition has 82,000 subscribers.

Barbalich said that kids engage with the magazine is several ways, be it through letters, sharing photos, or interacting with The Week Junior’s PopJam community. And kids aren’t the only ones reading it. She said that in recent weeks, she’s had grandparents write in and say they’ve subscribed because they want to know what children care about and how to have discussions with them about current events. What’s particularly special about The Week Junior is that it’s not only written for a general audience, but for a broad range of reading abilities.

“We don’t talk down to children,” she said. “We really respect children’s intelligence and it’s also a very reassuring and calm tone that children really react to. Every week we want to be this trusted factual resource that’s going into their home.”

The Week Junior is run purely on a subscription model — no ads. It focuses its marketing on adults because, while the product is for children, they’re not the ones with the purchasing power. In the U.K., it has previously partnered with the English Premier League and other major organizations to produce partner content that’s relevant and interesting to kids.

“If you are a news publication, it’s going to go into a child’s house,” O’Connor said. “A parent has to trust the media sufficiently, because that is a very big commitment from them. That piece of trust allows us to communicate what’s happening in the world to the child.”

POSTED     April 9, 2020, 12:22 p.m.
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