Piers Morgan and I had talked, on and off, for years about launching a newspaper for children in Britain. Both journalists, he was editor of The Mirror and I was editorial director at BBC Children's, launching circa 50 magazines for young people over the years. But there wasn't a single newspaper for kids, not one, in a country where newspaper reading was part of the national culture.
So, over lunch (or was it tea?) at The Ivy, we vowed to right this wrong and, just 12 weeks later, First News, the national newspaper for children was on the newsstand, thanks to the support and belief of media entrepreneurs Steve and Sarah Thomson (Sarah is my cousin).
When First News was launched, everyone said we were mad, that kids weren't interested in the news and, if they were, they'd read it on the internet. They asked us what research we'd done. Erm, none, actually. But we figured a lifetime working in news and children's media meant we had a nose for it! Fast forward five (and a bit) years later and we are now the proud publishers of Britain's widest-read publication for children with more than one million readers a week, who delve into our pages at home and in more than a third of schools.
(At last count our exact readership was exactly 1,047,543 readers but, in truth, that figure is climbing every day.) Yes, read that again. That figure is climbing EVERY DAY, totally bucking the trend seen by UK newspapers for adults which are in steady decline. But, hey, all is not lost for them as First News has created their next generation of readers, giving young people the newspaper habit. The grown-up papers should all be clamouring to support us. Are they? Well, some are more than others. The Times and The Guardian are, probably, our best friends.
So, as well as single-handedly saving the newspaper industry, the truly rewarding thing for First News now is that, as well as us explaining the week's national and international news for young people, we have also given them a voice in the UK. My view is that, if the world is going to become a better place, the next generation has to be better informed than the last. That means young people growing up with an understanding of the world they live in. First News makes them think. But our (fantastic) readers have engaged in a way that has taken even me aback.
For instance, back in 2008 we ran an editorial feature about child soldiers, reporting on the lives of ten-year-olds in Uganda who were on the frontline fighting. Our readers could not believe that children their age, and younger, were given real guns, were being killed and were killing. They asked us what they could do to help stop this. So we launched a campaign called Conflict Children to shine a light on the issues. What we thought was a small part of the campaign was a letter we produced for our readers to sign up to, calling for the international community to work together to find ways to stop the use of children in adult wars. We thought that, maybe, hundreds or a few thousand of our readers might sign the letter. But we were stunned when 235,000 young people signed. The British Government was stunned too, so much so that David Miliband, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, brought forward a review of Britain's child soldier policy and a special session was called at the United Nations. Wow! We really had made children's voices heard.
Now, we see that as a fundamental part of our mission. So, not only do we deliver the news to children every week in an appropriate form that they understand, we give them the opportunity to be heard about the issues that matter most to them.
Recently there has been a lot in the news about family life. Reports have said that what children really want from their parents is more of their time, rather than being bought gadgets. The latest of these, by Thomson Holidays, claims that 42% of families feel that they don't spend enough time together. And nearly half of all children say they don't see enough of their dads. So, right now, together with Thomson, First News is calling on children all over the country to come up with their rules for family life. We will be compiling all their responses and putting them to a national vote to produce an official Family Charter - rules by which children would like to live in happy harmony with their families.
It's a two-way street, of course, so there is also an opportunity for parents to add one or two rules themselves. So, get involved, and get your children involved - and have your say at First News or pick up a copy of the current issue of First News (available at all good newsagents/supermarkets, blah blah!)
We look forward to giving the whole family a voice...