AS a child, Mícheál Ó Scannáil used to avidly watch RTE’s news2day. Little did he realise that he would one day present the news programme which is designed specifically for children. For Ó Scannáil, his new job is a dream come true.
The show returned to our screens this week, and although Mícheál had to face some tough criticism from his young nephews who wanted to see even more of their uncle on TV, the Wexford native is really enjoying his broadcasting debut in the 10-minute daily segment.
The programme has been on air since 2003, and Anne-Marie Smyth, a co-editor of news2day along with Avril Hoare, says that it has a tradition of telling news to children using language they can understand.
“Our motto is truth and hope because basically we tell the stories that are hard to tell in a way that doesn’t use overly dramatic or scary language. We tell it factually and truthfully.”
The remit of news2day, which is aimed at seven to 12-year-olds, is wide and varied. Everything from Brexit to terror attacks to climate change is covered but in a way that is suitable for young ears.
“We’ll use appropriate language that is clear and neutral and hopefully reassuring,” says Smyth, “because we try to focus on the positive in every story – the people who help, the emergency services, the good neighbours.”
Ó Scannáil believes children want to know what is happening in the world and they want to be involved in the conversation.
A parent herself, Smyth says that her daughter, who is now at college, really benefited from watching news2day because she was the type of child who thought a lot about news stories and questioned why things such as earthquakes happened and asked if they could happen here.
Ó Scannáil , who is 24, echoes this, saying that when he watched news2day as a child. “The lightbulb would flick in my head and you’d think ‘oh that’s what they’re talking about, that’s what that means.”
While a lot of stories that happen in the world can make children feel threatened, Smyth says studies have shown that children are more afraid and anxious about conflict and images of war in countries that don’t have a news service designed for them compared with those in nations that do.
“News2day is perfect for children who question what happens, who get anxious about the news because it’s actually a reassuring space where they’re given the news in a very truthful, factual fashion, but they’re also given the explanations about what supports are there, where the good is in all the bad things that can happen.”
The programme was on air at the start of the Covid-19 crisis and it addressed the pandemic by asking its young viewers to submit their questions and inviting the now acting Chief Medical Office Ronan Glynn to come into the studio and answer them. Later, the then Minister for Health Simon Harris would do the same.
Smyth says the news2day team try to find out what is bothering their young audience, what they need to know and how it can be explained to them.
“Children are very astute. They really get quite often to the nub of the matter and they’ll ask very direct questions so we try, as far as possible, to answer what they need to know and then fill in the gaps around that. This gives them a safe space to talk about news that is affecting their lives so directly.”
Ó Scannáil believes that understanding about coronavirus and its impact on people will settle a child’s anxiety a lot more than half hearing things but not actually knowing what it means.
Many teachers also use news2day as a reliable source of information for their charges. “It gets children talking and helps to generate debate within the classroom,” says Smyth, who adds “the challenge about writing for youngsters is that you can’t rely on jargon, you have to explain.
“If there is a story about, for example, a tracker mortgage crisis, you can’t go for the shorthand that you think a lot of people will understand. In fact, sometimes when you drill down into it, people don’t understand as much as they think. The main challenge for us is finding the language that really explains and works well for children.”
The continuing Covid crisis means that it’s not business as usual for the news2day team but they are determined to work around the new normal, says Smyth. “We’ve been saying to schools that if they have a story, we’ll have a way to tell it. Schools are doing things differently, we’re doing things differently, but we’re still bringing the stories that matter to them.”
And she’s quick to point out that a lot of what they do in Ó Scannáil, is fun, something that is echoed by who says he’s looking forward to going out to schools, talking to children and seeing what’s going on with them. “It really puts a smile on your face. I’m very childish in some ways, I really do enjoy having fun with kids.”
He also thinks it’s really important for children to see that it is possible to achieve their dreams. “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.
“Growing up in rural Wexford, there weren’t too many regional accents on the news and there was no-one I could see who had the same background as me... I would love if some kid from round where I live or other part of rural Ireland looked at me and said that’s how you go to from where I am to achieving that dream.”
News2day is on Monday to Friday at 4.20pm on RTÉ2, RTÉ News channel and on the RTÉ Player.