For the first time in almost half a century, BBC Newsround has stopped broadcasting its teatime edition.
Due to changes in viewing habits, which were perhaps exacerbated by the pandemic, the broadcaster has finally replaced the historic children’s news bulletin with a broader digital output of news which they say is more suited to today’s children.
“The viewing figures kinda speak for themselves, kids don’t seem to want to come home anymore at 4 o’clock and watch news,” Ricky Boleto, BBC Newsround presenter since 2008, tells HuffPost UK.
The change to the historic scheduling may have surprised viewers, but patterns in the way children intake news has meant change was unavoidable, according to the show.
“We’ve been talking about it for loads and loads of years. We knew it was inevitable and it was coming. There’s a lot of nostalgia to do with the afternoon bulletin,” adds Ricky.
Nostalgia is perhaps why the BBC delayed the changes for this long - but there’s no arguing that live TV viewing figures have nosedived and that statistically children are getting more news from the internet, either by search engines or apps.
Responding to changing viewing habits, a new longer morning bulletin will be accessible via iPlayer and the CBBC channel to replace the former afternoon show, and a series of digital bulletins will be released on the BBC website at Newsround online throughout the day.
“Our audience is evolving, it’d be ludicrous to not evolve with them,” adds De’Graft Mensah, Newsround presenter since 2019. “There is a feeling of general excitement across the office. This new bulletin means we’ve got the resources to do incredible things online.”
The move has instigated a debate around what constitutes good children’s news in the modern era, both in terms of the way children view the news, and the type of news they view.
In the twelve years since Ricky started at Newsround, their output has felt increasingly more authentic and progressive, he says.
“It’s really important that we’re relevant and that we focus on what kids want to talk about and that we slip in every now and again the stuff that maybe they don’t want to know about but need to know about.”
It’s also felt more specifically tailored to children: “We’ve ripped up the running orders and we will lead on something completely different, that we know kids are interested in. We’ll lead on fidget spinners - things parents don’t give a toss about.”
He gives an example of a story they ran recently which epitomises these changes.
“When Trump was in the running to become President and all these allegations were coming out, in relation to sexual attacks, calling women certain things: we had to be careful with how we covered that, but it was such a big story… We had to say he was in trouble for certain things but obviously couldn’t be explicit with what it was.”
Would they have covered the same story a decade ago? “Probably not - some of the allegations around his conduct, we would have stayed away from.”
This push for authenticity is key for other children’s news outlets, such as First News, which reaches 2.2 million children per day via a printed newspaper and digital outlets.
“Children often tell us they feel reassured after reading First News because we report facts accurately, without some of the sensationalised spin and fear factor that helps to sell adult papers,” says Nicky Cox, MBE and Editor in chief at First News, a rival to Newsround.
“They are more savvy than many adults give them credit for. They are adept at checking more reliable sources of news to ascertain whether things they’ve heard are fake or fact. That’s where we come in.”
First News aims to appeal to children during their school day: a partnership with Sky allows it to be played out in classrooms, while other schools play Newsround’s morning bulletin.
There’s another reason why Newsround in particular has become so popular in classrooms. “A lot of teachers grew up with it, know the power of it and are using it now as a resource,” reckons Ricky from the show.
But Anne Wood, maker of children’s television since the 1960s and creator of the Teletubbies, fears that children’s TV culture must stand apart from the education system. She says that there’s no money in children’s TV which is why its traditional formats are diminishing, and that depleting viewing figures shouldn’t punish the select group of children who wish to return home from school and watch the traditional bulletin.
“There is a heritage of children’s television, a cultural heritage which is being diluted due to the break up of any continuous scheduling,” says Anne, who believes ideals of childhood get redefined in terms of change, and refers to this period as a technological revolution.
Anne describes “a sense of community” about watching in the afternoon: “On digital everybody isn’t watching at the same time are they?
“That’s a different thing than having programmes that children relax with, and have a sense of culture to them. Education is recognisably what it is, culture is something different. Culture is a shared thing.”
Another way shows like Newsround may fail to serve audiences is on social media. Most social media platforms like Instagram don’t allow children under 13 to join, which technically means it’s redundant for news outlets to broadcast via them. However, the reality is that younger children will have access to social media and be intaking their news that way too.
Newsround and First News aim to recreate a sense of the culture missed by Anne Wood with their online portals, and with the CBBC bulletins, although it’s too early to tell how the legacy of Newsround will change without the classic bulletin.
How much of this change will seep through to adult’s news, given we’re also moving away from terrestrial TV viewing?
“I think in five years we will still have TV news bulletins, particularly for our older generation who still view mainly on linear channels,” says Nicky from First News.
But looking much further ahead she believes it’s unlikely we will, “both because of 24/7 rolling news channels which will increasingly become digital, and because people want to know what’s happening, when it’s happening, rather than waiting for a 6pm catch-up.”
That TV news may not exist in a decade is a prediction backed up by the BBC’s head of news Fran Unsworth, who told The Telegraph recently that “ultimately, in ten years time we won’t be consuming linear bulletins.”
The days of a familiar TV face like Krishnan Guru-Murphy or Emily Maitlis reading the news while we have our supper may be numbered.