The Media Conference for Children (or Why Kids Need Role Models in the Media)

The Media Conference for Children (or Why Kids Need Role Models in the Media)

I told a friend that I was going to the Children’s Media Conference, and he jokingly asked whether I was too old to be going to a media conference for children. But it turns out he wasn’t far off, because one of the striking things about the conference was that children really were at the centre of it. It wasn’t just about how we can make money out of children, or how we can give them what their parents think they need – there was a genuine focus on what kids want from us as content creators, and how we can serve those wants and needs more effectively. And so in that sense, it really was for children. Because despite what we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, kids are really rather media savvy, and they have mature ideas about what they want from us.

So what is it that they want? One thing the Children’s Media Conference (CMC) really flagged up for me was the need for strong and diverse role models in children’s media. Kids want to relate to the hero – or better yet, when it comes to interactive, be the hero. In Malorie Blackman’s inspirational keynote, she said that despite reading a huge amount of books as a child and young adult, she didn’t come across a single one with a black character in until she was 21. As such, she felt like she didn’t belong, not just to the individual worlds of those books but to the world of arts and literature itself. In other words, she was affected creatively by not seeing herself reflected in the media she was consuming. Obviously Malorie has done alright for herself in spite of that, but there must be thousands of kids out there whose creativity has been stunted because they’re poorly represented in the media. Perhaps that’s why platforms like YouTube have enjoyed such ferocious growth among young people recently: a kid who is into gaming, for example, won’t find any gaming role models on terrestrial TV but they’ll find plenty on YouTube. Whether ‘role models’ is an accurate way to describe guys like PewDiePie is up for debate…

Empowering kids to be creative is still the best thing children’s media producers can do for their audience. If we give them permission to make stuff, to remix content, to interact with actors and presenters – that’s when we will see a generation that doesn’t just consume media and be satisfied with that, but instead has a real appetite for creative expression.

The Children's Media Conference
There's lots more info about CMC on their website, including blogs and recordings from the sessions I've mentioned.

World Cup 2014 wall chart

World Cup 2014 wall chart

This has been a nice little side project over the last couple of weeks; a simple but colourful poster for CBBC fans to print out and follow the action at Brazil 2014. It was great fun to put together, and it’s lovely to know that kids all over the country (and probably some grown-ups) will be able to enjoy it.

The players at the bottom of the poster came from BBC Sport’s World Cup marketing trail. With no budget for images of real players, these were great to have. That was the main challenge I faced on this; trying to make it look amazing without a lot of time or money available.

Hugely grateful to prettywolfie and felipe_grilo on the free image site Pixabay for the photos of Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer. Nice one guys!

Wall chart for 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
You can print your own copy over on the CBBC website, either as one page or split into four.

Shaun’s Game Academy

Shaun’s Game Academy

I heard about this yesterday – it’s a fantastic initiative run by Aardman, a nationwide competition calling for kids to design and build their own games. The beauty of it is that the complicated coding part is made much simpler through ‘Scratch’, a very easy (relatively!) programming platform.

There’s more info in this Guardian article, and the competition itself is based here. The competition site includes some fun, easy-to-follow tutorials – I’d never used Scratch before, but after half an hour of fiddling I was able to make this…:

Click the green flag to start, then press space to keep Shaun afloat!

PS it doesn’t work on mobile devices, sorry.

A screenshot of the Shaun's Game Academy website
Scratch uses a drag-and-drop system, so it doesn't involve typing code out and all the headaches that can create (think typos!)

My epiphany about the nature of homepages

My epiphany about the nature of homepages

Yes, this is one of those strange meta posts that’s about the website in which the post is contained. My apologies.

I’m just about ready to let my new site loose in the real world, and that’s thanks to an epiphany I’ve had in the last few days. For ages I was agonising over one single issue: what should my homepage look like? How should it function? What is it even there for? I didn’t know whether it should house all the content on the site, or be a dump for everything that didn’t fit into my three categories (design, music, media) or just be a static page with a generic ‘hello there, well done for finding my website’ message. Sure, any one of those three options might be a bit boring, but there has to be some sort of meaningful content on that homepage because it’s right there at the front of the nav menu!

The ‘innovation report’ leaked by the New York Times a couple of weeks ago is, if you didn’t know already, a really big deal. It outlines the future of the company in a very honest and self-critical way, highlighting several key areas where it has failed to keep up with changes in technology and changes in media consumption habits. One of the big main points it makes is that the NYT has been putting a whole load of effort into how its homepage looks, and how its main section fronts look, and how its print front cover looks – when actually that’s just not how most people consume media any more. When people discover an article they didn’t already know about, it most likely happens through social media. When people do know an article exists, but don’t have it bookmarked, they’ll most likely google it. The same is true for the CBBC website (which I help run at work) and the same is true for my personal website.

So that’s how I arrived at the revelation that not only could I let go of that pressure to make my homepage something impressive and meaningful, but that I could in fact feel free to remove the ‘home’ link from my nav bar altogether! The homepage still exists, of course – it simply brings in all my latest posts. But by taking it off the nav bar I’m streamlining the user experience and encouraging people to skip straight to the category they’re interested in.

The facade of Hale House in LA.
The facade of Hale House in LA. Why do we put so much effort into homepages, when they've become so unimportant?

Hot Topics for DNN: Definitely Not Newsround

Hot Topics for DNN: Definitely Not Newsround

I’ve recently been editing a series of 13 webisodes to accompany the new series of DNN, a very funny comedy show based on a fictional news channel. Each Hot Topic clip features a different character ranting about a different subject, along the lines of Peter Griffin’s ‘What Grinds My Gears’. I was going to provide an example of WGMG at this point, but couldn’t find one that would be appropriate to link to from a post about CBBC…

ANYWAY. I’m particularly proud of this one, featuring no-nonsense reporter Nellie Osmond, because I had the privilege of writing the script!