Tori Nelson began her journalism career in her hometown in Connecticut. After moving out west to the San Francisco bay area, she co-anchored the region’s number-one morning newscast, KTVU-TV’s “Mornings on 2.″ In 2018, she co-founded KidNuz with three former colleagues, and today, the organization releases kid-friendly news podcasts five days a week.
Tori anchors four days a week and writes one day a week. When she’s writing, she begins by searching high and low for stories that are appropriate and relevant for children. She scans major news outlets, like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN and Fox News, as well as websites specifically geared towards kids. After sourcing the best, most balanced news items, Tori drafts them into engaging, digestible stories—just for kids.
Each finished podcast is only a few minutes long—but represents hours of work behind the scenes. KidNuz has seven board members and roughly 20 people on the advisory board—all of whom are passionate about keeping kids informed in an age-appropriate way. We sat down with Tori to learn more about the organization, and how parents and kids can navigate the news media landscape with confidence.
Tell us a bit about KidNuz.
It’s a daily six-minute news podcast just for kids. One of our founders was a producer at a TV station and she had young kids at the time. When they got to be five, six or seven years old, they got excited to know about what was going on in the world. She was excited to share news and events to feed that curiosity, but every time they came into the kitchen for breakfast, she had to turn over the front page of the New York Times because the headlines were so alarming. She thought there had to be a way to tell kids about what was going on in the world without terrorizing, boring or confusing them. That was where the idea for KidNuz came from. It’s an opportunity for children to become news-savvy. We have five to six stories in about four minutes, and then we have a little quiz at the end that kids love.
How do you make the news kid-friendly?
Between the four founders, we have nine Emmy awards and 12 children. We try and use our best judgment for what stories are appropriate. We originally had a broad age range that we were targeting of six to 13 but we narrowed that to kids ages eight to 12. We look for stories that kids that age would understand. We have featured a lot of news about schools and education—something that’s in their world or something that they love. Animals tend to be one of our more popular topics. I had one email from a kid who asked us to do more stories about cats because cats are cool.
We avoid anything that is innately violent or sexual and we don’t feature an excessive amount of politics. When a political story is too big to ignore, we cover it—literally with kid gloves. We try to keep it as neutral as possible. Our podcast is a springboard to offer more information if the parent or teacher feels that the child is ready to have more details. If the adult feels the child is not ready, they can just keep that door closed and move on to the next story.
Why is it important for kids to have access to age-appropriate news?
It’s absolutely paramount that kids get in the habit of following the news. I have a lot of adult friends who tell me they don’t watch the news anymore because it’s too depressing. It’s overwhelming. And I agree, it can be—and sometimes it’s good to take a break. But it’s important to follow the news, at least to the extent that you’re comfortable doing so. Otherwise, how are you going to know what’s going on?
If we can get kids following what’s going on in the world in a kid-friendly way, they will then get in the habit as they get older.
The other area we’re passionate about is news literacy and knowing the difference between what’s accurate and what’s not. One of the projects we’re hoping to expand next is a news literacy program to be able to train kids in that. And we’re also looking into starting a junior journalism program. It’s so important that journalism continues to grow and be a healthy industry. If it’s not, that can cause all sorts of problems in the world and in our democracy. So, it’s very important to get those habits started early.
What is the biggest change you’ve seen since you first started KidNuz?
There has been increased concern and awareness about fake news, especially on social media. And again, that’s something that we’re hoping to address with news literacy. We need to teach children to check sources. If it’s a source that you don’t know or trust, find out if this news story is being reported anywhere else and in what format. That’s becoming increasingly important to be able to verify the news.
What can kids and parents do to determine whether a new source is reliable?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about a story and felt the need to check on it. There are a couple of websites you can go to double-check: snopes.com is a popular one. It’s been around for a long time. The other thing that’s important is when a story references a study. Check who’s funding the study. One of my favorite examples for kids is to ask them to think about a study that says eating candy every day will give you straight A’s in school. If you look and it’s funded by a candy company, that study seems a little convenient for the candy company.
The other thing is to look beyond the headlines. Headlines can be deceiving because they don’t tell the whole story. You need to dig a little deeper. I know sometimes stories can be really, really long, but if it’s something that you feel is important, get the full story.
And finally, it’s important to check your own biases. That’s something that we always try to do as journalists.
We’ve seen massive changes in the way kids are using technology in the past two years. Do you foresee the conversation around children and tech shifting?
It’s a little hard to say. I wish I had a crystal ball! Technology is not going away. The question is how to manage it and how to use it in the most appropriate manner for whatever age the user is. I know with younger kids, what works when you are introducing the digital world is to do it together. The parent can model the right way to use digital technology and explain the pros and cons and risks involved.
Even the smartest adults can get fooled online and become a victim of spam or make mistakes. So, a child is even more at risk. It’s important to raise awareness and make kids as tech-savvy as possible.
When it comes to parenting in the digital age, what concerns should we be aware of?
We like to think our kids won’t make mistakes, but it’s so easy to get tripped up. And a lot of the problems out there are pretty well disguised. But having said that, there are some real benefits to technology and that it shouldn’t all be shunned. That’s one of the reasons we work extremely hard to make KidNuz a platform that parents and teachers can trust.
What advice would you give to parents with younger kids?
We just did a survey with adults and we heard that KidNuz has sparked some really good conversations with children. It’s helpful to listen to the news together. And then, if kids have questions on their own, you can welcome them. You can also ask follow-up questions like, “what do you think about that story? Do you think that person made the right choice? What would you do if you were in that situation?”
It can create a helpful dialogue. So many parents have said that when they listen to KidNuz in the carpool, they’ve started really discussing what’s going on in the world. Listening together as a unit can help create a bond. And kids have also said that one of the things they like about KidNuz is that they feel like they know what’s going on in the world. They hear adults talking about something and they feel included.
What issues and stories resonate with kids?
Stories about animals and sports are popular. Space is something that a lot of kids are curious about. And kids are also concerned about climate change. And, the other thing that we try and do is feature ordinary kids doing amazing things. One of my favorite stories was about a little boy in Brooklyn who loved to make bow ties. That was his signature style. He went to an animal shelter and there was a bunch of older dogs that weren’t getting adopted, so he made bow ties for these dogs and they started getting adopted. Those stories help kids realize that an average person can do really cool things and make a difference. That’s something that appeals to kids also.
You can learn more about KidNuz here. And be sure to follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date. If you’re keen to support the organization, check out their awesome merchandise! And, KidNuz is now available as a Path in Kinzoo! You can download the app for free from the App Store and Play Store.