Children’s Express Asks Media Focus On Youth Issues

Children’s Express, a news service managed by young student journalists, commemorated its fifteenth anniversary with a two-day conference in New York City. The symposium emphasized the importance of increased media coverage on issues affecting children. Discussions spanned various topics such as teenage pregnancy, juvenile justice, and the impact of children on a global scale. Although no consensus on solutions was reached, conference attendees agreed that these issues, along with other concerns of youth, deserved more attention from both the media and government policymakers.

Nancy Guilmartin, the national director of public affairs for Group W Television and co-creator of the youth-focused TV program "For Kids Sake," stated that young people now demand a change in how the media covers them. Instead of glamorizing violence through youth crime and gangs, they want more positive role models. The press-oriented conference attracted journalists from prestigious publications such as The New York Times, The San Diego Tribune, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as representatives from various magazines and broadcast-news organizations. Additionally, over 50 Children’s Express reporters and editors covered the panel discussions and other events, easily identifiable by their vibrant maize-colored T-shirts (reporters) or red polo-style shirts (editors).

Although some younger journalists occasionally grew restless during discussions on the federal budget deficit or the "peace dividend," they were the most enthusiastic when it came to asking questions after participants’ remarks. For example, one young girl questioned R. Sargent Shriver, the program creator of Head Start, about the lack of funding for the initiative. Another asked why teachers aren’t paid higher salaries. Prominent speakers at the symposium included Jule Sugarman, executive director of the Special Olympics and the first director of Head Start, Peter G. Peterson, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels citizens’ patrol group, and author Jonathan Kozol. Renowned commentator Bill Moyers also addressed the young reporters and editors during an anniversary dinner.

Children’s Express, a nonprofit organization, was established in 1975 as a magazine written by children, targeting other children. It gained recognition for its news scoop in 1976 when it reported Walter F. Mondale’s selection as Jimmy Carter’s running mate ahead of mainstream media outlets. The organization also garnered attention during the 1988 Presidential campaign when one of its reporters posed direct questions to Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Dan Quayle regarding his opposition to abortion. This dramatic exchange was featured on network news and a Children’s Express television special, showcasing the research and preparation conducted by even young journalists. Children’s Express has its headquarters and another bureau in New York City, with additional bureaus in Atlanta, Boston, Indianapolis, Newark, N.J., San Francisco, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. Future expansions to Washington, London, and Paris are anticipated. The age range for Children’s Express reporters is 8 to 13 years old, who conduct interviews with their subjects on tape to minimize limitations imposed by writing skills. Teenage editors and a few adults assist the reporters in crafting the stories published in subscribing newspapers and Children’s Express Quarterly magazine.

‘An Enjoyable Experience’

Chandler Brown, a 13-year-old journalist from the Atlanta bureau, recently assisted in covering a two-week cultural exchange program with students from Soviet Georgia. Despite being new to Children’s Express, he had the opportunity to interview former Senator Gary Hart and the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. "I’m having a lot of fun, but I don’t necessarily see myself pursuing a career in this field," stated Chandler last week.

Rachel Burg, a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University, joined Children’s Express when she was only 12 years old. She has had the chance to report on two national political conventions and even travelled to Hiroshima to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the atomic bomb drop.

Omri Elisha, a 17-year-old student at Bronx Science High School, has also had exciting opportunities through Children’s Express. He has travelled to Italy and Bermuda for their journalistic assignments and currently holds the role of senior editor within the organization.

During the anniversary symposium, important topics were addressed, and just like in previous meetings, participants left with a desire to "make a difference" and bring about change. However, as Omri noted, many of the problems still persist. "This is my third Children’s Express symposium," he remarked. "Perhaps it is time for us to move beyond merely organizing symposiums."


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