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What Do Children Want From the BBC?

Children's Content and Participatory Media Environments in an Age of Citizen Media

Grant Holders: Dr. Cynthia Carter

Co-applicants: Professor Stuart Allan and Professor Máire Messenger Davies

Researcher: Kaitlynn Mendes

Funder: BBC and AHRC

Period: September 2007 to August 2008

The project examined the changing relationship between the BBC and its young audiences, with particular attention on Newsround, its flagship television news bulletin and website.

In looking beyond the usual sorts of rhetorical claims made about ‘the iPod generation’, the development of user generated content – often hailed as citizen media – clearly warranted close attention for its potential to re-invigorate the BBC’s remit. The main opportunity was one of offering these audiences innovative ways to participate as citizens in deliberative dialogue and debate. 

The fieldwork took place from January to May 2008. We spent one day in 9 schools, talking to children from ages 8-12 in primary schools and 12-15 in secondary schools. The research included a short questionnaire, group activities (web and TV news provision, story ideas).

Additionally, each pupil was asked to record a video diary over a three week period following our visit, in which they were to address specific questions around citizenship, interactivity and NR’s news provision.

We found that most of the children feel that they are already citizens, despite not being old enough to vote. A number said they want NR to enable them as citizens, by providing more opportunities to voice their opinions through things like the red button on the TV remote control and including more child news reporters and presenters from across the regions.

Most of the younger children feel  that stories on TV bulletin and website are of an acceptable length and depth, whereas perhaps not surprisingly teenagers think the website could be an ideal place to provide them more in depth local, national and international news by building into the website a ‘level of complexity’ button on the search bar. For NR’s target audience of 8-12 year olds, children in this age group feel the level, length and tone of its reporting is about right. This age group sees the website as being more for older children, a point confirm by many of the teenagers (although some said that overall it was too simplistic).

The NR team struggle to remain relevant to teenagers as well as their target audience. Questions around interactivity produced a number of interesting findings, including the view that whilst NR is easy to contact with feedback, few felt inclined to do so for a range of reasons, with the exception of some of the teenagers, who actively used the message boards.

Additionally, most of the younger children said they wouldn’t upload their photos because they didn’t know how to do this or that their parents wouldn’t let them (cost; internet safety, etc). There is a tension between NR’s aim to be more inclusive of its audience with the types of interactivity to which children, particularly those in its target audience, are invited to use.

Initial Research Outputs

Mendes, K, Carter, C., Allan, S., Messenger Davies, M, Milani, R., and Wass, L. (2008) "What do Children Want from the BBC?: A Preliminary Report," Media, Communication and Cultural Studies (MeCCSA) annual conference, Cardiff, UK, 8-10 January.

Mendes, K, Carter, C., Allan, S., Messenger Davies, M, Milani, R., and Wass, L. (2009) "What do Children Want from the BBC?"