At the outset of our design phase, as a group, we knew we wanted to devise a novel journalism-related product to tackle the problem of media illiteracy. The well-documented impact of misinformation and “fake news” being propagated through social media is one of the most pressing issues of modern journalism.
After the first phase of preliminary research, our group settled on designing a product that could tackle news literacy by incorporating it into pedagogy. Tackling problems by introducing the solutions during childhood education and later high school education is well-trodden ground; for example, civics classes aimed at introducing teenagers to the democratic process in the hopes of developing engaged, politically-minded citizens. Certainly, there is precedent for creating youth-friendly news, but—as discussed in later sections—what exists are a few ill-designed products that have not yet found the mark.
In keeping with the lean start-up methodology, our group laid out the groundwork of our initial idea without filling in too many details that would be subjected to changes at a later date. We had a core problem: media illiteracy. We had a solution: devising a youth-friendly news product that is both engaging and informative. With these aspects of the product in mind, we set out to gather more information and construct this market research report.
Strategy: How did you select people to talk to? What questions did you ask them? What was the goal of your research and interviews?
In researching for our product, our group heavily emphasized talking to the people who would actually be consuming, or at least pushing, our product. This amounted to an emphasis on three groups: teachers, parents, and the kids themselves. These focal interviews would be supplemented by whatever additional interviews we could secure with what we generally called ‘experts’, individuals with no vested interest in using our product, but with some kind of expertise in news literacy. Finding experts was not the main goal for us because much of that side of the research report—i.e. the statistics, facts, and data-driven conclusions—were found through existing research reports and meta-analytic reviews. As such, our goal was to go directly to the market and find out whether (A) there was a desire for our conceptual product, (B) what would be valuable design features of the product, and (C) who would be the core groups interested in making use of our product.
With an overarching strategy for our research set out, we devised more specific questions and paths of inquiry. For parents, our questions were aimed at teasing out details for a product aimed at young children (5-10 range). At this age range, parental influence is a defining factor in what products, chiefly tablet apps, are being used. We sent out a questionnaire with the following questions:
- What age are your kids?
- Do they have access to smart devices?
- If yes, what are their favourite apps/games?
- What apps do you think are not good for their development? Which do you find the most educational?
- Do your kids engage with the news? (Yes/No/Maybe)
- Do you keep certain kinds of news from them? Why?
- Do you watch the news with your kids? Why or why not?
- What are your concerns about watching the news with them?
These questions were designed to help us navigate certain pitfalls inherently tied to the idea of developing children engaging with the news, while also identifying the sort of product that might be appealing to parents of young children. One-on-one interviews with parents were conducted in a similar manner, but got into more detail regarding the specific fears and desires of the parents.
For teachers, our questions were aimed more at potential deficiencies in school curriculum. In essence, we wanted to know whether teachers were seeing first hand issues of media literacy, or shared our belief that targeting childhood education could be a beneficial approach to improving news literacy and civic engagement later in life. Moreover, we wanted to know about the feasibility of incorporating our product with a school curriculum either directly (working with a school board to implement our product), indirectly (working with teachers to create a product they could recommend to students taking their classes), or tangentially (creating a product that students would willingly engage with to supplement the learning being done in-class).
Finally, in our interviews with children, our questions were simple and to-the-point. We wanted to know whether they engaged with the news. If not, we wanted to know where they had a desire to engage with the news but were prevented from doing so in any manner (i.e. parental concerns or inaccessible language). If yes, we wanted to know where they found their news. These three questions formed the bottom line for the information we wanted to gather about the kids who would be the eventual primary consumers of our product.
Outcome: Who did you end up interviewing? What did people say about the jobs to be done? What other sources did you consult for research?
We interviewed Dr. Alexandra Makos, a lecturer and researcher at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Dr. Makos researches technology use in educational settings and teaches courses on this topic. We sought her expertise for insight on how we could design a news app that would maximize learning and minimize harm. Dr. Makos highlighted the effectiveness of reward systems and feedback in educational games. Points, levels, and immediate feedback allow the user to chart their progress. Some potentially harmful elements of apps include continuous scrolling features and auto-play. Dr. Makos explained that such features ruin the ‘feedback cycle’. On top of being potentially addictive, users lose the point of the content they are consuming. She added that children develop self-regulation around the age of 10-12 and, as such, some apps might not be suitable for younger children to use without supervision.
One aspect of our product that is ubiquitous in all our future designs is the notion of writing news for children. To learn more holistically about the process of writing for children, we spoke with Hugh Brewster, an author and editor for Scholastic. Brewster, who has written several children’s books about World War I and II, said that he was able to convey complex concepts to children if he was careful about his language and implemented engaging storytelling techniques. Some of these techniques include using pictures and telling stories from a character-driven perspective. In one of his books, Brewster used a moving image of a soldier to demonstrate shellshock, and then went on to explain post-traumatic stress disorder. Brewster said that captivating characters allow children to relate to the content and increase engagement with the story.
We spoke to three children to learn more about their technology use, reading habits, and interest in the news. Jeffrey Song, 12, Veronica Xu, 10, and Jonathan Xu, 7, all use some sort of device, either a phone or an iPad. The apps they use are mainly social media and some games. The three of them said they don’t consume news and expressed very little interest in the news. Jeffrey said some topics, such as coronavirus, Kobe Bryant’s death, and global issues interest him. The three of them said that they didn’t feel the news affected them personally. While Song said he had no problem understanding news articles, Xu said sometimes the vocabulary was difficult to understand.
Alana Bachoun has three children ages 3, 6, and 9. Bachoun said her 6 and 9 year-olds have access to smart devices where they watch YouTube (with supervision) and play word and puzzle games. With regards to the news, Bachoun uses major events as teachable moments where she will research with her kids and they will work through certain topics together. Still, when Bachoun listens to the radio or watches news online with her children, she has to be ready to switch it off if the discussion becomes too gruesome (mass murder, child murder, child abduction, etc.)
“Though the younger ones don’t usually clue in if I quickly change the station or stop the streaming, my 9 year old is always listening and I do have to be cognizant of her emotions relating to the subject being broadcast.”Alana Bachoun
Teachers proved to be the group most receptive to our inquiries and, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a lot to say about the topics of education in media literacy. We interviewed teachers of French, Social Studies, Health, Drama, Physical Education, and Music who teach ages ranging from pre-kindergarten all the way to high school. Chris Wiens, a Grade 8 French and Social Studies teacher in Kingston, said that his students displayed a broad range of news interest. Some engaged heavily with the news, some not at all. Wiens did note that a large majority of his students engaged with their news through social media platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram. Jessica McNaught, who has taught grades one through five in a variety of different subjects, expounded on social media use with her view that it leads to misinformation. McNaught suggested that most of her students were not media literate, and were largely unable to distinguish between real and false news on social media sites like TikTok.
There were a few seemingly universal conclusions derived from the interviews with teachers. First off, there was a large appetite to see a reputable news site delivering news in a manner that is easily digestible for kids of varying reading levels. As it stands, kids will only go out of their way to seek out news for major events (Kobe Bryant’s death, Coronavirus, Australia bushfires, etc.). Teachers will often discuss current events with their students, but only as a peripheral to their main studies. There was also a large desire for better French-language content in the teachers we interviewed, but this may have been skewed in part by the French, French-immersion, and ESL teachers with whom we spoke.
The last area of our investigation was independent research that had already been conducted. Studies have emphasized a growing concern over online misinformation, with major stakeholders already working to create programs to combat fake knows. A large meta-analysis from Jeong et al. has shown that media literacy interventions have an identifiable positive impact on outcomes including media knowledge, criticism, perceived realism, influence, behavioural beliefs, attitudes, self-efficacy, and behaviour. Thus we have a known efficacy for well-designed media literacy products with a large public appetite for these endeavours.
Competitors: Who are your competitors? What are their advantages? What is your unfair advantage?
While other websites and apps have established customer bases and/or a better reputation, they are not designing UIs and content in forms that appeal to children. We would design an app/website that looks more like TikTok or the Snapchat ad menu but with reputable content like CBC Kids News. We would also heavily focus on “in the classroom” resources, as children are not always motivated to engage with current events on their own. By providing content that teachers need (and are currently having trouble finding) for media literacy curriculum, we would be able to focus on a solid consumer base that other sites have had mixed success tapping into.
That being said, the first competitor is the aforementioned CBC Kids News. The primary problem with the site is that—with a few exceptions—rather than breaking down current affairs and “adult” news into consumable, youth-friendly content, it panders to its perceived audience with a lot of lifestyle, tabloid-esque stories. In that regard, it misses the mark by being a site that few kids would engage with of their own volition while also lacking an appeal to educators as a valuable source of important news. Even still, CBC Kids News hits on a lot of the major ideas that our product would improve upon. For instance, the site does a good job of writing about certain topics, like the recent Wet’suwet’en protests, in simple terms. It also makes use of quizzes/polls as an engagement technique, though they are somewhat lacking in quality and scope with little effort made to tie them into the actual news stories. Were CBC Kids News make certain key improvements (French language implementation, creation of a user-friendly app, eschewing some of its more ‘click-bait’ stories) it would be a major competitor, especially given that it’s entirely free.
Teaching Kids News is a website that excels in the areas that CBC Kids News struggles with. Not only have they been around since 2010, they present news on a much wider variety of topics with none of the lifestyle, tabloid-style news that plagues CBC Kids News. The articles are well written and can be valuable resources for parents or teachers looking to break down the news with their kids. The site also has guides on identifying fake news, as well as other news literacy topics. The main problem with the site is that it is bland, sterile, and does not have much to offer kids in the way of engagement. At first glance, besides the name of the site, it is indistinguishable from the site of a major paper. It seems to bank entirely on being used as a teaching resource with little to entice kids to actively participate in their learning. Essentially, the site is a major improvement on CBC Kids News but it lacks broad appeal and is in desperate need of new technologies and new styles of presenting and engaging with news.
There also exist a few apps that could be potential competitors. News-o-Matic is an app designed for primarily young children that fulfills more of the engaging aspects that Teaching Kids News lacks. It also has strong interactivity. The payment model of in-app purchases seems like it would be difficult to maintain, but the scale of the app is fairly small and likely does not require much revenue to support. Newsela is another such app, whose target audience is a little bit older. It amalgamates content from reputable sites to create news articles at various reading levels. Its American-focus and weak interactivity make it a weak competitor. From these competitors, we can break down their advantages. Of course, there is the fact that these are first-to-market. The websites have public, not-for-profit funding and sustainability. The apps have easy to use formats that make use of newer technologies. The deficiencies we identified are largely around the quality of content; small scale; lack of engaging, well-designed interactive features; poor to none French-language option. Our product would make improving and adding those features the top priority. Moreover, our advantage is that our product will be the best subscription-based model, giving us more capital and enabling us to produce more, better quality content in conjunction with features lacking in our competitors.
Takeaways: What did you learn about your potential customers and your idea? How will it help shape the direction of your minimum viable product?
From our investigation, we learned how to shape our minimal viable product into something that will fill a niche in the market currently empty. To begin with, we learned that our product has to be something that is appealing to teachers as well as parents (if the kids are in the 5-10 range; at around that point, teacher approval becomes more important than parental approval). That being said, the product still needs to be appealing to the baseline consumers—the kids/students.
At present, our best option appears to be a dual web and app-based program targeted at the 10-13 age range. The product will be a cheap subscription-based model (while the ideal set-up would be a not-for profit supported by philanthropic donations, it seems unlikely that a novel site would be able to drum up sufficient funding.) The main product will be news written in an easily digestible manner for pre-teens. There will be a balance between subjects like science, sports, and arts as well as a slight preferential treatment for major current affairs. Interactivity will be achieved through compelling news-based quizzes and (possibly) games. On this front, the quiz trivia game site Sporcle represents an exemplar for educational quizzes. There could potentially also be reading comprehension questions attached to each article that would help incorporate the articles into lesson plans and school curriculum. In the style of Teaching Kids News, we will also have sections that focus purely on teaching news literacy and combating misinformation. Finally, there will also be a heavy reliance on visual teaching. From our interviews and our personal experience, we know that visual learning possesses an untapped potential for delivering news in an engaging manner that accommodates students who prefer that style over conventional reading-based methodologies.
- Talia Kelly, 819-693-1367
- Alana Bachoun, Facebook poll responder
- Karen Dockeray, Facebook poll responder
- Marie-Eve Daniel, 514-239-3796
- Alexandra Makos, 416-278-4609
- Hugh Brewster, 416-960-5465
- Veronica and Jonathan Xu, 416-986-1253
- Jeffrey Song, 647-867-8669
- Chris Wiens, 343-333-2702
- Jessica McNaught, +1 (905) 923-0615
- Ellise Truong, Facebook Messenger
- Nisha Khanmaini, Facebook Messenger
- Nicole Belanger, Facebook Messenger
Electronic Source List