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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 March 2007, 00:35 GMT
Have you got news for us?
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Huw Edwards at school report day
Huw Edwards told pupils about the Ten O'Clock News

What do young people think about the news? What do they want to hear more about? What are the annoying subjects that make them hit the remote control?

A hundred schools around the UK are in the process of making their own news - in the BBC News School Report project, in which classes of 12 and 13-year-olds are producing news reports.

Among the schools taking part in this news is the Paddington Academy, west London.

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And the young teenagers here, trying to wrestle with producing their news stories, had advice from the presenter of the BBC's Ten O'Clock News, Huw Edwards.

For their own news, they had picked topics that reflected the stories around them. What's it like to be a teenage mother? What would their new school buildings look like? How do older pupils treat the younger children in the school?

But what did these youngsters make of professional news programmes?

"Why is it always so negative?" said one 13-year-old, speaking before Huw Edwards' visit. "It's more or less just people getting killed. Or earthquakes. You never get to see anything positive."

Confusing presentation

Maybe they have a point. If you are used to consuming a diet of up-tempo youth channels, the news is not exactly going to seem like a barrel of laughs.

And a much-repeated accusation was that news kept dwelling on their least-favourite subject: politics. Not only was it seen as being "monotonous", it was also seen as being presented in a way that was confusing.

School report
The School Report project gives young people an insight into news

"All I can hear is these annoying voices," was how one pupil described the Westminster village. And another's straightforward plan for improving news was to ditch all politics.

But that did not mean they did not want to know about political issues. Global warming was a topic they wanted to hear more about. "People are taking our planet for granted," said one.

Racism was seen as a major story. And a girl who had family in the Middle East talked about the need to show what was happening in Iraq.

Animal welfare was another story where they thought the news needed fuller coverage. "You never hear about poachers or all the animals that are tortured."

Shootings

These youngsters were "bovvered", but there was also a distinct difference in how some of them saw the function of news.

They expected the news to be a kind of education - a service that gives warnings about potential dangers. More like health information than a round-up of opinions and experiences.

So the current spate of stories about teenagers being shot or stabbed had been seen by these pupils not so much as a reflection of a social problem, but as a warning of specific risk.

A couple of the girls talked about how scared they had been after seeing these stories.

Huw Edwards at Paddington Academy
Paddington Academy pupils are making their own news stories

"It's like, if we go out tonight we might be shot out there," said one.

They also objected to the news being blurred with celebrity - picking out reports about Britney Spears as lacking in substance. They might accuse the news of being dull, but they still did not want it to be trivial.

A media studies teacher at the school, Katherine Edmead, says that the project has helped pupils to understand much more about how news operates.

And she says that there are issues that can really trigger their interest. The recent dispute about Big Brother and racism caught their imagination and provoked strong opinions, she says, giving them a focus for discussing many wider issues.

Accent on change

There are also changes in how students receive news, she says - with online news becoming more significant, particularly when it can be accessed through their mobile phones.

Newspapers and news radio did not really appear on their radar.

Pupils at Paddington academy, school report day
The pupils have carried out video interviews for their news reports

But when young viewers yawn over parts of the news, maybe they are not that different from older ones. Adult news audiences can also get tired by professional spokespeople jousting away at each other.

And when Huw Edwards talked to them about making the news, he admitted it could be a challenge to tell some stories in a way that did not get people reaching for the off switch - giving the example of Northern Irish politics.

Huw, a former French teacher, was interviewed by the class about his own experiences of news - telling them how his Welsh accent would have been less acceptable when he joined the BBC.

And he talked about the big issues that often dominate the news - including terror, racism, crime and global warming - and how journalists had to approach each of these with a sense of balance and open-minded inquiry.

What were the most memorable stories he had ever covered, he was asked. The funeral of the Pope John Paul II in 2005, he said - and Margaret Thatcher's departure from Downing Street in 1990.

The latter dramatic event, he realised counting backwards, had taken place several years before most of these youngsters had been born.

And it remains to be discovered how these teenagers will view the big stories of their own times - and what news will keep their fingers away from the off button.




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