A media start-up inspires young changemakers by showing solutions to problems
“Is there only bad news in the world?” That is the question that launched a new media offering for 8-12 year-olds and their families. The founder’s answer was WoW! News. It is a response to evidence that a diet of worrisome headlines is turning kids off engagement with the wider world. WoW! helps them put things in perspective, introducing them to people solving society’s problems and giving children confidence to contribute in their own way.
WoW! founder Catherine Bahl put that question about negativity in the media to journalist Alastair Macdonald, a veteran of crises and wars around Europe and its neighbourhood. Catherine had long been an avid news consumer while working in the financial markets. But she realised she had all but switched off her media intake – to protect herself from doom and gloom. What’s more, she reasoned, if she was disengaging to that extent, what was a 24/7 diet of alarm and despondency doing to children, just at the age they should be opening their eyes to the wider world?
Together, Catherine and Alastair, a Franco-Scottish couple based in Brussels, surveyed parents, teachers and children. Many adults spoke of this concern: that an increasing penetration of real-time media into children’s lives (coupled with a race for headline clicks in which many editors see generating anxiety as a winning tactic) risks pushing the youngest media audiences to withdraw from engagement with a world whose many problems they are about to inherit.
Yet who else but today’s youngsters are going to save our tomorrow? The answer for Catherine was obvious – children need reassurance and inspiration if they are to share their talents and energy to the full. To do that, we should show them that, for all the troubles in the world today, there are already people out there striving for, and finding, real, workable solutions.
With the help of French social enterprise start-up incubator Ticket for Change, Catherine and Alastair launched WoW! News online a year ago, offering free weekly articles and podcasts. These introduce children to inspiring changemakers, some of them children themselves – like Jose Adolfo, who at just seven years old set up a waste recycling bank to help impoverished classmates in Peru to stay in school.
WoW! looks beyond the agenda set by other media to highlight trends of more significance than the latest fleeting outrage or political spin – whether it be the promise of seaweed farming, citizens’ conventions or new ways to measure ‘national happiness’.
It is also quick to address breaking stories that families and schools cannot ignore. Having offered kids news as early as January on how global vaccine cooperation and simple methods of personal hygiene offered solutions to the mounting COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown saw the WoW! team ramp up their output, launch a new ad-free website offering all content in English and French and establish a colourful printed ‘fanzine’. Their global audience multiplied.
Having won a coveted La French Tech grant from France’s BPI public investment bank and set up an expanded editorial operation in Strasbourg, WoW! is now developing a paid-for app. This will create weekly moments of dialogue and playful complicity between parent and child around news topics that offer an empoweringly positive take on the future, using interactive, multimedia storytelling techniques.
The team is brimming with ideas for other formats to reach and inspire children – and to put WoW! on a sustainable economic footing. Look out for a crowdfunding campaign this autumn, partnerships with schools and international youth networks and more child-friendly, short video formats which capture the essence of solutions.
Catherine says: “Our goal is to show children that the world is beautiful, to put our problems into perspective and to give kids the confidence that they can contribute to changing the world for the better, at whatever level suits them. What we need now is for people to spread the word among their friends about WoW! News.”
Catherine Bahl & Alastair Macdonald,