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30 January 2019

Reporting Negative News to Children: Finding the Balance Between Informing and Shielding

Given the importance of being well-informed, there is a need for insight how negative news can be delivered to children. A study in Journalism examines the potential of constructive news reporting, which involves solution-based reporting, including positive emotions. The results show that constructive reporting induces less fear and sadness in children. Moreover, the negative aspects of the event stick less in children’s minds.

Take aways

  • Constructive news reporting helps to lower children’s feelings of fear and sadness after seeing negative news.
  • Constructive news reporting leads to poorer memory of the basic facts of a negative news event.
  • Producers of news for children should be aware that making news less emotionally harmful for children can lower the informative value of the news.

Study information

  • Who?

    281 children (mean age: 11, age range: 9-13, 53% girls), most of them (95%) were born and raised in the Netherlands

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    Children watched a news item about the 2011 tsunami in Japan, which started with general factual information. Then, children saw three short stories, which were either constructive or nonconstructive. In the constructive stories, information was solution-based and had a positive emotional focus, such as help that was provided in the search for survivors. In the nonconstructive stories, information was problem-based and had a negative emotional focus, like how hard it was to find survivors. Children filled out a questionnaire to measure recall of the information presented in the news and their feelings of fear and sadness in response to seeing it.

Facts and findings

  • Children remembered the constructive stories in the news item better than the non-constructive stories.
  • However, children who saw the constructive stories recalled less basic facts of the news item, which could indicate that constructive stories took away their attention from the basic news facts.
  • Children’s feelings of fear increased with 4% after watching a constructive news item while fear increased with 6% for children watching a nonconstructive item.
  • Feelings of sadness in children after watching a constructive news item increased with 7%, compared to an 8% increase for children after watching a nonconstructive item.