THE BLOG

Why I Owe It All to John Craven

16/12/2014 06:59 GMT | Updated 14/02/2015 10:59 GMT

You have to be of a certain age to remember when John Craven was so much more than the elder statesman of Countryfile. To me, and many others, he is the reason why we became enthused in politics and current affairs. We need a new version to motivate younger people.

John Craven's Newsround was ground-breaking. As a news programme aimed directly at children it was how the big events of the day were explained to many of my generation.

Not only was the style of the programme appealing but it meant that young people were given access to stories that had only otherwise been the preserve of adults. For a child of the late 1970s and early 1980s, like me, that meant stories about the Winter of Discontent, Thatcher's victory in 1979, the Falklands War and lots more. Newsround broke stories before others. Children could learn about a story before their parents.

It was critical in providing not only an interest in current affairs and politics but also a confidence. I was fortunate that we also talked about politics at home. But without a different source of information that Newsround provided, I would not have been able to engage properly in a discussion and, very occasionally, disagree or put an alternative point of view forward.

John Craven was also multi-media. Not only did he edit and present Newsround but he also appeared on SwapShop and even released a record with his fellow presenters. It is still quite rare but the likes of Radzi and Barney probably come closest. This mix of styles meant that Craven provided a level of access which was unheard of and made politics and current affairs less scary. It opened up a horizon which suggested that involvement was possible and beliefs could be help.

Now the children's TV schedule is more packed and the choices open to browse from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix etc. is vast. Newsround is still a vibrant and thriving programme but it does not hold the same position as it did. Viewing figures are a fraction of what they once were.

This is, of course, the same challenge that other media and news outlets are facing but unless we can find a way of engaging young people then we risk that detachment from politics and current affairs continuing throughout their lives.

As things stand, according to polls young people still see politics as important but they often lack any real interest in it. The extension of the vote to 16 year-olds in Scotland does appear to have had a galvanising and enthusing effect and contributed to the high turnout.

Sky News launched the Stand Up Be Counted campaign to give young people a voice and they did this with a poll that suggested that the young are not engaged in politics.

Elections provide an opportunity to try and enthuse the young but the political parties do not, as yet, appear to be putting much in place to try and win them over. The issues dominating the agenda are those affecting older voters, particularly the elderly and it has been suggested that those being hit hardest are young - job prospects, welfare cuts, lack of housing etc. Research suggested that young adults were hit hardest by the recession. The elderly meanwhile continue to have their homes, pensions remain unaffected and their benefits are not means-tested. The young could well look at this old group and conclude that they are paying the price for the excess of the elderly. And that is not even to go anywhere near climate change.

Research suggests that turnout amongst the young is higher when the candidates are younger but then the media often complain that young candidates lack 'life experience' or 'have not worked in the real world'. Surely that isn't the point. In a world not dominated by John Craven then we need ways to get people to think and engage with politics and the political parties need to make more effort as well. The future of young engagement cannot rest solely on the shoulders of social media.