I distinctly remember, at 11 years old, making a mental note that 11-year-olds were capable. Someone had just told me that they would explain something to me when I was older — unfairly, I thought. I wanted to make sure that when I became older, I would know that 11-year-olds can take it. I didn’t want to condescend to anyone, because I understood the barrier it created.
The New York Times’ special projects editor Caitlin Roper also understands that barrier. On Sunday, May 14, she unleashed the first-ever Kids’ Section. According to the Times, “For a paper that appeals to young readers, the editors were mindful not to talk down to them.” The section included an opinion page from P.S. 92 fourth graders, blurbs from professionals about how they became what they are, a center spread with tips for drawing on newspaper photos, and more.
The most crucial part of the section is the diversity it encompasses. There are pictures and drawings of people of different colors, hot international vacation spots and explanations of problems that different people face. I grew up in suburban Ohio and wasn’t exposed to this wide of a range in thought and experience. I can imagine that it’s especially insightful to kids growing up like I did.
The “How I Became…” blurbs are interspersed throughout the section. The first is from Senator Kamala Harris, who starts out by explaining school desegregation in one simple and understandable sentence: “(Making) schools more equal so kids who looked different could learn together”. Animator Kira Lehtomaki talks about her love for the movie “Sleeping Beauty” as soon as 3 years old. Wildlife Veterinarian Suzan Murray says she realized what she wanted to be when she was 5 and watching Jane Goodall on TV with her dad.
When I was in kindergarten, I had to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up. I came home in tears of frustration. I didn’t want to be an engineer like my dad, or a fashion designer like my mom or a teacher like my teacher — and since those were the 3 main adults in my life, I was stumped. It’s cool of the New York Times to introduce kid readers to careers that they otherwise might not know about in a way that’s understandable but not demeaning.
The section’s center spread encourages kids to pick up a marker and doodle on the newspaper’s pictures. It’s really genius — not only can kids practice on the pictures in the kids’ section, but they can explore the rest of the paper, and slowly expose themselves to more news.
There are also several “How To” articles, such as “How to Win an Argument Against Your Parents” and “How to Speak Your Mind”. Both encourage kids to say what they think and take action. Throughout the section, there are messages to kids to start topic-specific groups at school, call local legislators and write opinion pieces for local papers. I think it would be empowering for kids to see adults believe in them, and for kids to believe in themselves. As Hilde Kate Lysiak, a 10-year-old who created a newspaper in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania says in the article “How to Read (and Write) the News”, “If kids take themselves seriously, then adults will take them seriously, too.”
As a young journalist, I’m inspired to see a large, established newspaper experiment with new ideas. I’m a fan of breaking templates, reaching unreached audiences and going big — which is exactly what the Times did with this section. Although Roper, the Times’ special projects editor, said the section wasn’t trying to create a calculated influence, which I think makes it even better. She said, “I would love to say that it was part of some bigger strategy, but truly the idea was just to do something really fun.”