Children's Press Line
This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember with Explorations in VOA Special English. Today we tell about American children serving as news reporters to explore the issues important to them.
The United States is holding a general election on Tuesday. Politicians who are candidates often like to be seen with their children. They believe this shows that they support strong families. But children themselves do not often have a chance to be news reporters writing their own stories about politicians. That is exactly what happens at Children's Press Line, an organization in New York City.
Hundreds of news reporters from all over the world went to Boston, Massachusetts and New York City this summer. They reported about the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. These conventions chose the candidates who are running for president in the election next Tuesday –John Kerry and George W. Bush. Children wearing bright yellow shirts also attended the conventions. They were reporters for Children's Press Line.
Young people make almost all the decisions at Children's Press Line. One young reporter says: "The children do the work, while the adults pay the bills and buy the pizza for us to eat."
Money to operate Children's Press Line comes from individuals and big businesses. Children's Press Line reporters are eight to eighteen years old. Most of them are not able to vote, but they are able to ask difficult questions. One reporter is Emily Olfson, a sixteen-year-old student at the United Nations International School in New York City. Emily says the young reporters want to "question adults who have power about issues that are important to kids."
The young reporters wrote one story about how they prepared for the national conventions. These young people said they want to ask questions that will cause adults to make changes. They also want to inform as many people as possible about issues important to children. They wrote "if we do not know something we will try to find it out, and if someone is stopping us from finding out, that means trouble."
The young reporters decided to research five issues important to children: Education. Homelessness. Children who do not have health care. Young people who are in prison waiting to be executed for committing murder. And the rights of young people who love other young people of the same sex.
The young reporters spent several months learning about these issues. They talked to children who had no homes. They talked to mothers who could not pay for health care for their children. They talked to two young people in prison who were waiting to be executed. All of these talks were written and published for adult readers.
Then the young reporters wrote twenty questions about each issue. They knew they wanted to ask these questions in discussions with members of Congress and elected officials who would be at the national conventions.
Emily Olfson says many of the people being interviewed expected the children to ask easy questions. However, Tarissa Whitely says it is important to write good questions that will get good answers. Tarissa is a sixteen-year-old reporter from New York City. She says the young reporters must ask questions like "why?" or "why not?" She says they should not ask questions that allow a politician to just answer "yes" or "no".
"We want to go deeper. We want to make politicians think," says Tarissa. "We do not want them to give us an answer from a speech they give every day."
She says most politicians at the conventions did answer questions from the young reporters as if they were adults.
In one story, the young reporters wrote: "If the politicians start giving us the same speech they give every day, we say that we do not understand. We ask 'can you explain it in a different way?' Or 'how can you solve this problem?' We want to make them agree to fix the problem. We want to know exactly how they will help kids."
Tarissa says it is important to get people to look at you while they answer your questions. She says: "If someone does not look you in the eye, he may not be telling the truth. Or if someone plays with his fingers, he may not be telling the truth." But Tarissa also says she tries not to let her opinion about a person affect her reporting.
The Children's Press Line reporters do not always get the answers they want. The children told about one experience at the Democratic Convention in Boston. They were talking to Lieutenant Governor John Moore of Kansas.
When they asked what children's issues were important to him, Mr. Moore said "education, education, education." The young people said that is what politicians always say to children. When they tried to ask more questions, a band began playing music. Mr. Moore said, "nice talking to you" and walked away. The young reporters tried to find Mr. Moore again but he was already lost in the crowd.
Children's Press Line reporters write stories about many kinds of issues. Every idea comes from a young person and must be an issue that affects children. All the reporters together choose the stories they find the most interesting.
They research the stories, write questions and find people who can answer their questions. They write stories about what they learn. The stories are published in the New Amsterdam News in New York City. Some of the stories are published online and in other newspapers in the United States. Children's Press Line says more than sixty thousand adults read their stories.
Tarissa Whitely has written and researched stories about hip hop songs that support fair treatment for people who have the disease AIDS. She has written stories about cuts in government money for programs helping young people. She says Children's Press Line has given her a chance to meet many new people and do things children do not usually do.
Sometimes Children's Press Line reporters talk about important issues with young people from other countries. These talks are on the Children's Press Line Internet Web site. The address is www.cplmedia.org.
The Web site also has movies of the talks among young people from different countries. In one movie, young people in the United States talk with young people in Iraq about the war there.
Also on the Web site, young people from the United States, Britain and Japan talked about differences in punishment when students do something wrong in school. Now, Children's Press Line is trying to open a high school in New York City for students who want to study the media.
Marie Ponsot (PON sott) is eleven years old and is in the fifth grade in New York City. She has been a Children's Press Line reporter since she was nine years old. Her first story is still the one she likes best. The young reporters wrote about security cameras in Greenwich Village, an area in New York City. Marie says the cameras invade people's privacy.
Her stories reported about protestors who performed plays in front of the security cameras. She said the protestors were using the plays to tell other people what they thought about the security cameras.
Marie says writing these stories helped her learn about issues and problems in society that affected her.
Later, she talked to a student her age who could not read. Marie said that concerned her because she felt it was not fair. Marie says a society that has news reporters who are free to ask questions and write stories helps people know what is happening where they live.
Emily says she knows that the media have a very big influence on what people know and think about issues and problems in society. She attended an international meeting of students at her local school.
Students listened to news reporters from the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Arabic news company Al Jazeera. The students compared the same stories told by different media in different countries.
Emily says the more people know about a problem, the more they will want to know how they can help solve the problem. Children's Press Line says twenty-five percent of the people in the United States are younger than eighteen years old. But only ten percent of the news stories are about issues important to children. Emily says Children's Press Line gives children a voice since they do not have a vote.
This program was written by Karen Leggett. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.