Brazilian news website uses cartoons to makes the headlines kid friendly

It's nothing new to see kids playing video games and online apps. While news organizations try to stem their losses in print media, the next generation of readers is learning how to get their news online. There are, however, few media outlets trying to make their content accessible to this younger audience.

Taking this as a jumping off point, journalist Simone Ronzani created Recontando, a website that adapts the biggest stories from social media sites into educational cartoons for kids.

The website went online March 30 of this year and is already showing signs of success with kids, parents and educators. The journalist spoke with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas to explain the project.

Knight Center: How did your journalistic career begin?

I graduated in 2004 and since fourth period in college, I interned almost always in print. After I graduated, I had my son the same year. From there I spent some time in journalism but in positions for recent graduates that paid very poorly, and so I went to work for an English multinational as a bilingual receptionist. I returned to journalism with Jornal do Brasil. From there I went on to the Fluminense newspaper as a reporter. Afterwards, I joined Approach, with a better-paid position, to work as a policy advocate. I then coordinated the state communication secretariat. Meanwhile, I finished my graduate education in entertainment management because I knew I wanted to follow other paths besides politics. That's when I started as editor of Projac. I finished the project to make journalism for kids fun.

KC: And what led you to create Recontando?

Recontando was my final project for graduate school. I had to do a market analysis for a business, fictional or real, so I decided to do it on the website and saw that there was nothing like it out there and that this would be unique. I saw that there was this gap, this need. I did a parallel study on language to think about how to do journalism for kids and I ended up with a format based on cartoons, with storytelling resources, comparison, metaphor.

KC: What was the biggest hurdle in conceiving a news website for kids?

The biggest challenge is doing something that has never existed before. It took conviction in the study I conducted and all I believe that's important to communication to children in a format that's clear, without being tendentious, without going over their heads. The important thing is to train them to be more critical, more aware of what's happening.

KC: How many people work in the newsroom at Recontando?

We have a team of two other journalists, besides me, an illustrator and cartoonist and another on a freelance basis. We're in the third phase of testing.

KC: How do you go about developing the stories?

Besides the professional staff, we have a group of junior collaborators--one of which is my son. The professionals set the guidelines, write the text, we take it to the animators and later submit the results to the kids. At this time, the exchange is very rich. It only goes online after they've seen it and with their approval or that they've told us they understand it. There was one time when they didn't understand, an explanation of the difficulties athletes face at high altitudes. So, we refined the video before it went online.

KC: How is the public responding?

We have nearly 70,000 hits in less than a month. We're developing a multimedia project to be sent out to schools that includes episodes and comprehension workshops with jokes referencing the episode. I think that kids have a good grasp of the content. Besides practical experience, we have traffic from parents, educators and children on the Facebook page, and from this we can get a sense of how the public accepts our content.

KC: To what to you attribute your success?

We confirmed the need that I identified in the grad school, and the format we've chosen is proving to be appropriate for broadcasting content to kids. Today, the speed of information requires a language that facilitates comprehension, even for adults. Audiovisual cartoons activate visual memory especially for children, whose verbal and cognitive skills are still limited. In my experience, animation is going to take up more and more space, including in the mainstream media, especially to explain complicated topics to the broader public.

KC: Do projects like yours help build an audience for journalism?

Generation Z is intimately tied to the changes experienced by communication companies. I moderated a debate that evaluated the results of the Teen Kids Online research, conducted for the first time in Brazil. It's a study exploring children and adolescents' behavior online. What are the challenges and opportunities? They're not offline and online; they're always online. So, we need to adapt journalism, along with schools and other institutions, to communicate with this generation.

KC: What is the website's business model? How does it stay online?

We're finalizing a project to design materials for schools, where we'll be paid for the content and the workshops. Besides that, we intend to broaden the advertising space on the site and sell content to cable television channels.



Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.