All the news that's kid friendly
At this Paris newspaper, 10-year-olds take part in the editorial meetings - and choose the stories.
PARIS — It's early morning in the Paris headquarters of leading French newspaper Mon Quotidien, and the news team is busy discussing a story on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
"Do you know where Mecca is?" asks an editor to the news team.
"I've never heard of it," replies Kajetan, the "editor in chief." "Neither have I," add two other editors.
That might sound surprising, but you can't blame Kajetan for his apparent lack of knowledge. He is only 10 years old, and along with two other primary school kids, Juliette and François, he has been invited to be editor in chief for the day at one of the world's only daily newspapers for children.
Aimed at 10- to 14-year-old readers, Mon Quotidien marks its 10th anniversary this month and it has a lot to celebrate. In 10 years readership has steadily grown. The newspaper is so successful, it now has three sister publications for ages ranging from 5- to 18-year-olds, edited by Play Bac Presse.
Those who thought children didn't like reading newspapers can think again.
"Children love the newspaper, but so do parents and teachers," says the founder and editor in chief, François Dufour. "Children like to read it because it's written for them. Parents like their kids to read, and teachers are happy because anything that encourages pupils to read is good. It's what I call a virtuous triangle."
Mr. Dufour started Mon Quotidien with money he made from educational quiz cards, sold as Brainquest in the United States.
He set off with a basic principle that the newspaper should take no longer than 10 minutes to read, a realistic amount of time for a child to concentrate after a long day at school.
The result is a colorful read, with illustrations and graphics on every page and a good dose of humor. Regular topics include animals and the environment, science, and stories about children.
While the format is fun and lively, Mon Quotidien doesn't shy away from hard news. Topics discussed at this morning's editorial meeting included stories about the European Union proposing a ban on the display of Nazi symbols, and prisoner abuse in Iraq. While the three young editors did not like the pictures of Iraqi prisons, they all agreed the news was important and should be mentioned.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about kids," says Jeff Mignon, a US-based media consultant. "In fact, they are very open at this age. You can talk about most things, as long as you do it in a way that's adapted to them. If Mon Quotidien works as well as it does, it's because it has the courage to look at its readers' interests," adds Mignon, who helped launch the newspaper.
To make sure the newspaper reflects children's interests, kids from schools around the country take part in the editorial meetings twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday, when they are off from school. These youthful editors apply for the jobs by calling a phone number printed in each issue of the newspaper. They are then chosen on a "first come, first served" basis.
During an hour-long session, they choose which news stories will appear in the next edition. Adult journalists write and edit the stories, but the children are always the ones who pick what to publish.
"We always go with what the children want," says Olivier Gasselin, deputy editor in chief. "There are no vetoes."
François, age 10, woke up at 4:30 this morning in his home in central France to attend the editorial meeting in Paris. He thinks getting kids to decide the editorial agenda is a great idea. "If it was [adults] who chose, it wouldn't be the same."
The team of journalists sits around a table in the morning editorial meeting with the children. A wide sample of stories has been selected by the journalists beforehand. The children then choose which ones they prefer or think are most important - or funny, depending on the section in which the stories will appear.
The children are there for only three hours, leaving the paper by noon.
For grown-up journalists, going with a 10-year-old's choice of news isn't always easy.
"One day there was a very important European Union election, but there was also this story about a bear in a zoo," remembers Mr. Mignon. "The children chose to lead with the story about the bear! The journalists found it extremely difficult to go with that choice, but they did."
More than 200,000 copies of Mon Quotidien and its sister publications make their way into French households and schools daily. The newspapers are sold through subscriptions only and, at under 70 cents a copy, the cost is half the price of a national newspaper in France.
Kids, it turns out, aren't the only ones to keep an eye out for their paper in the post. According to Dufour, many parents also read it - including some who do not subscribe to any other paper.
As most other national dailies in France lose readers in droves, Play Bac Presse is a welcome success story. Competition from the Internet, free-sheets, and an aging readership have plunged the industry into one of the worst crises in recent history.
But as others struggle to keep afloat, Mon Quotidien and its sister publications are turning a modest profit of about $1.3 million annually.
It's just as well for Play Bac Presse, which has many more projects in store. The group is in the final stages of testing a US version of Mon Quotidien with The Miami Herald and has reached an accord with the Associated Press to syndicate the newspaper's formula.
"We have found that the older you get, the less you read. So we want to target the younger generation to get them to read later," says Mignon, who is in charge of the US project. "Investing in kids is worth it."
Play Bac Presse has something to say about that.