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Changemakers: Helping kids make the news

Media experts Kirsty Day and Grace Dyke are bringing youngsters into the newsroom and improving media diversity at the same time

The new generation of newshounds is being reared in Greater Manchester. Media whizzes Kirsty Day and Grace Dyke launched Media Cubs, a pioneering youth project that takes the demand for more diverse media and turns it into fun workshops for underprivileged seven to 11-year-olds. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” co-founder Day tells The Big Issue, on a mission to show working-class kids they can set the same ambitions as their privileged peers. Media Cubs is also an effort to improve literacy and confidence in schools feeling the effects of cuts and squeezed budgets. 

Day, a journalist by trade, met Dyke while working at Alzheimer’s Society. After hitting it off the pair set up Yellow Jigsaw in 2014, a social change-focused PR agency. But by 2018, mum-of-two Day was itching to create something that married her passion for media and her concern that the school curriculum wasn’t offering the space to grow as a communicator that it once did. “It seemed like all the creativity was being sapped out of classrooms in terms of writing,” she says. “I thought, what’s wrong with being able to create a great story and letting everything else come after that?”

The co-founder knows all too well that working-class people are under-represented in many newsrooms and worried it was contributing to growing mistrust in the media. Keen to encourage children’s confidence and help them believe that they can make a difference no matter their background, Media Cubs was designed to transform any space into a newsroom and pop-up TV studio.

It lets kids share their views and make the news, whether they want to be in front of the camera, taking photographs or writing news reports. “That’s all the serious stuff,” Day says. “On top of that, it’s just loads of fun.”

The children involved are encouraged to explore their interests, “which range from Pokémon to politics”, and create news stories, reviews and pieces to camera about them – there are even weather forecasts. The co-founders were surprised by how media-savvy the kids turned out to be, and have learned to embrace the likes of TikTok as a new platform children are familiar with and keen to get creative on. “They’re much better at things like spotting fake news as children than as adults,” Day says. “They don’t cease to amaze me with how media-literate they are.”

The project began as a couple of pilots in schools run alongside parent focus groups. What the Media Cubs team found was that while parents were excited about the literacy benefits that would come from the scheme, what they really wanted was even more simple – to see their children increase in confidence. It would go on to prove particularly valuable for kids who weren’t drawn to standard after-school activities put on by their school, Day says.

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The response has been massively positive. Schools were immediately keen to get involved and parents have been blown away by the difference getting involved in a mini-newsroom has made to otherwise shy children – many of whom went from sitting quietly, determined to only write, to shining on camera.

The pilots were so successful that Day and Dyke knew they had to go for it and have worked with more than 150 schools and community groups since. Media Cubs have run ‘takeover days’ in some schools, when they helped classes set up their own YouTube channels or record their own podcasts about subjects that mattered to them. The project is in its infancy – the website only went live last week – but there has already been interest from journalists around the country who want to sign up as licensees so they can go into schools and deliver sessions too.

“Those are the next steps for us, expanding into the rest of the UK and being able to licence it to people,” Day says. “To parents too! Some told us they’d like to take this on as some part-time work at after-school clubs.”

The pair are running Media Cubs alongside their full-time day jobs, which has proved challenging – that and learning to adapt from school to school depending on their needs. But they’re keen not to be limited to schools, looking to do more evening and weekend sessions in community centres. Last year the organisation teamed up with the Manchester United Foundation to run a summer school in sports reporting, even giving some kids the opportunity to interview players and take part in a press conference.

In the near future there are plans for journalists to visit school classes and show them that people from backgrounds similar to theirs can make it in the media too. In the meantime, kids in England will cut their teeth on Media Cubs challenges that combine skill and fun – like rewriting fairy tales as news reports.

Reporting some relevant statistics

A quarter of 10 and 11-year-olds in England didn’t reach the expected attainment level in reading, while nearly as many struggled with grammar and spelling

UK TV journalists are 76 per cent white, according to Ofcom data

43 per cent of the UK’s most influential editors went to private school

mediacubs.co.uk

Illustration: Matthew Brazier

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