This is my story with the children’s newspaper. I don’t know how to tell it, though. It is much easier to live your story than to tell it.
When my son turned 8, I retired to take care of him full time. We decided that it was time for one of us to invest in the child, and I wanted to be the parent that does it.
Around that same time, I started looking for a daily newspaper for the child. For 2 reasons
1. All of us in the family are newspaper junkies. We need our newspaper with the morning coffee and the breakfast. If that newspaper is not there, we are lost all day.
2. Having been at levels where I was in interview panels to select people for admissions into colleges, and jobs in companies for over a decade, I realised one thing.
There was a consistent pattern. The talent that was walking in that interview room door was awesome – Above 95 percent in academics throughout, IIT or an equally prestigious institution, done very well in the preliminary or entrance exam etc. Yet, we had to reject about 2 out of every 3 candidates that entered that door – because of our selection ratio. We only had that many seats or posts.
And I realised, consistently, that the candidates we rejected, had one thing in common –they were simply not able to discuss current affairs. Most of them did not read current affairs at all, and a few depended on online news or TV for their current affairs and ended up reproducing the same things that they had read or heard. There was no analysis and no depth to their answers.
The candidates who were able to make it, in contrast, had read about current affairs, knew their numbers, were able to present both sides of the story.
When we asked them where they went for their current affairs, every single one of them said that they read a detailed story in a newspaper, and supplemented it with TV debates or online news.
The second thing I realised was that something like this cannot be rushed. It is a habit that has to be formed during childhood. The ability to analyse, to see both sides of the story, to express something in simple words – these are things that take years of consistent engagement with the news. Today, there is a great tendency to get polarised, or to even break friendships based on someone’s response to a political event. But if you keep reading the papers, you realise that everything is ephemeral.
Your ability to rise above the immediate or the urgent, and see the bigger picture, is developed only after years of engagement with a wider outside world. We can always tell when someone has taken a crash course in news.
I observed this for over 14 years of that professional career, and realised that even after a child has excelled academically and done everything right, when it comes to that last step, how aware you are, how analytical, and how you view the world, makes all the difference. This was a classic case of “For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.”
My ask, I thought, was really simple:
1. A daily newspaper.
2. No violence, rape, ISIS or negative news.
3. Written in the child’s style, in a lucid, easy way that even kids can understand.
4. Available for him to read BEFORE school, at breakfast, so that the habit is formed.
I mean, if we can get 4 newspapers delivered to our house every morning, how hard can this be, right?
Wrong. It wasn’t hard. It was impossible. No one else thought a child needed to form a DAILY habit of reading a newspaper. Times of India and HT do school subscriptions, and the child struggles with that size. It is too huge for him or her to actively navigate, read, and enjoy.
On June 21st, 2017, I ranted on Gurgaon Moms, the Facebook group, wondering if I should attempt to create a paper at home for the child to read. The sheer encouragement I got from that group, and the number of women saying, “Go for it!” encouraged me to try. I did.. the first edition was a disaster.
But I sat at my desk every single day, working a little bit. On June 30th, 2017, my son came from his grandparents’ place after a 10 day break. I handed him the 4 page simple printout. He went into his room, and when he emerged 15 minutes later, he hugged me and said, “Mom, if you think you know how happy I am, you know nothing.” Those words sealed it.
It is a simple, print at home newspaper in A4 format, created by parents for their own children.
Within 2 months, we were 7 mothers creating 7 editions, and within 4 months, we also had child cartoonists on every edition – all 7 of them.
For one year, the paper was run as a closed loop circulation only – you got the paper if you contributed to the content – either as an editor or as a contributor.
In July 2018, we, the editorial group, decided that we were now ready to take the homegrown paper to a much larger audience. We had a year-long proof of concept, we knew how holidays and sickness and other aspects of being a stay at home parent affects our ability to contribute on time, how we are thorough professionals who will complete Diwali or New Year celebrations and then sit down on the paper. We are the only paper that has an edition on the day after Holi, Diwali and even New Year.
That is how the paper was opened to everyone. It is now available for a nominal subscription. Children can see it online as an epaper, or they can download and take a printout on any home or office printer.
The Current State
Today, the paper reaches 99 countries across the world and every continent except Antarctica. We take frequent feedback from children and parents, and we change the content of the paper accordingly. Since July 2018, the paper has had 2 revisions to the look and feel. The last one was tested by over 60 people all over the country before we finalised it!
On the business front, The Children’s Post of India is now a registered trademark in India.
We also realised that a lot of young people (above the age of 15) read our paper. This intrigued us, so we asked them why they find the paper interesting. They said that the school curriculum and mainstream media does not explain the fundamental concepts the way we do. Whether it is citizen’s rights, the dance of democracy, business, science, or space – the way we break things down and simplify, they did not have this earlier.
So they read the paper to clarify their concepts and to understand more advanced concepts like Brain Computer Interface, What is GDP, How to analyse the budget, the latest in information security. I think that they will find our careers section interesting too.
We are a bunch of 17 dedicated parents who work regularly, and we are advised by other senior professionals who believe in our mission of raising aware citizens.
We have had enquiries for something similar from Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hongkong! You will be very happy to know that what our children in India have – an exclusive daily newspaper created only for them, is not available to children in these countries!
We would like to:
A. Create a HUGE community of children who read. In the polls that we have done on the Facebook group and in our discussions, we find that we, the parents, have a lot to learn as listeners. We would like to change that.
B. Demonstrate and prove that mothers sitting at home can create something magical. The Children’s Post of India is the country’s most productive publication, and we can say that shamelessly. With no office, no employees and at absolutely no cost, we create a newspaper that is current, relevant and published every single day – including on days when the other newspapers take a break.
There is also a layer of checking the paper every single night. These are mothers who spend the whole day being full time parents or professionals and then sit at night to create this magic.
C. Have more young people join us as journalists and feature writers. We feel that young people really don’t have an avenue to express their creativity in a way that requires depth. Most of our young people write blogs, or if they get content assignment, it is for short pieces. The USP of The Children’s Post is that we require that reporting be fact based and unbiased.
I am sure that there are young people out there who are trying to get their voice to reach a larger audience – through cartoons, descriptive analysis, travelogues etc. We would love to give them that platform.
D. At this time, we are preparing to create and launch a national level quiz contest for middle school. After a LONG discussion with parents and teachers, we came to the conclusion that one way to create aware citizens is to incentivise the learning. The best way to incentivise learning is the good old quiz contest.
So we are now getting ambitious and trying to create that national quiz contest!