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WoW! news site keeps kids positive – even during the lockdown

WoW! positive news site for kids
21:30 29/04/2020

As the coronavirus dominates headlines around the world, WoW! presents positive solutions to global issues for 8-12 year-olds.

Since the beginning of the confinement period, the multimedia platform has multiplied its online output of articles, podcasts and videos – all published in English and French – and available via a free and ad-free subscription service.

Launched in 2019 by two Brussels expats, WoW! helps youngsters cope with the pandemic and its fallout. “About 50% of our coverage is about the disease and the lockdown. We look at positive aspects, such as the improvement in air quality and wildlife coming into the city,” says editor Alastair Macdonald.

Alastair Macdonald and Catherine Bahl

The former Reuters Brussels bureau chief is co-founder of the site with Catherine Bahl, an expert in positive communication. When the Scottish-French couple (pictured, above) saw the crisis coming in January, they searched for a more optimistic angle amid a deluge of negative headlines.

“It was a bit of a risk, but we looked at the international cooperation to find a vaccine. We said this is serious, but the good news is that people are working together on it and here are the things that you should be doing now, such as washing your hands,” says Macdonald.

“Once it came to Europe and schools started shutting down, we realised we had to respond further,” he adds. They rebuilt the website and increased the quantity of specially adapted material that draws around 70% of its audience from Europe.

It was seeing children’s already “mounting anxiety” when confronted with today’s news that spurred the couple to set up the publishing business. “I was quite surprised to hear parents around Brussels talking about children who were in tears over the climate crisis,” says Macdonald.

Does he have any advice for parents when discussing the coronavirus with their children? “Every family is different, but up to a point you need to be transparent. This is an extraordinary example of something you can’t cover up. From the age of eight to 10, children can cope with quite difficult subjects.”  

WoW! news site in English and French

Opening their eyes at a formative age to the capacity of humans to respond to adversity and hardship, WoW! introduces its readers to some inspirational people who have adapted to confined spaces and challenges, including an astronaut and a round-the-world sailor.

As for a young French woman who has walked across Antarctica, the point is, says Macdonald, “she organised herself, she made a plan and took little steps, then big  ideas.” He adds: “So we are not suggesting that we can all do that, but if there’s something that you really want to do, this is how you go about it.”

The interactive site delivers a global vision of issues, from the climate crisis and terrorism to life in developing countries. “It’s interesting to encourage kids to reflect on schools now that they might actually be missing them. We did a piece on Malala [the Pakistani education activist] and a girl in Africa who campaigns against child marriage, which is a touchy subject for 12 year-olds, but I think we have found a way to do it,” says Macdonald.

“We are trying at an emotional level to let children know that there are things that people are doing and by inference, they may also be able to do things in all sorts of circumstances, whether they be personal difficulties, in their community or problems with the planet. They shouldn’t feel helpless; resilience is about there always being something you can do. Ultimately, our goal is to build a community of children who want to change things,” he says.

As a journalist, Macdonald was posted to a number of conflict zones around the world and the experience led him to question the media’s coverage of negative news. It was first-hand experience of family tension that motivated his partner to pursue positive communication. “Catherine will often talk about growing up in a conflict environment, not in a war zone, but in a family where everyone was arguing and how that marked her,” he says.

The pair’s youth-focus journalism project has the backing of a startup incubator in France and they’ve just won a French tech bursary, which will help make the site become even more interactive.

While it’s currently free and without advertising, a subscription service will eventually benefit disadvantaged kids. “If you subscribe your child then another child will get a free subscription,” explains Macdonald.

Meanwhile, the couple’s priority is to continue to get feedback from children, parents and teachers – that is all hopefully positive!

WoW!’s podcasts and articles can all be accessed in English and French at Audio content is also available on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube and other platforms

Written by Sarah Crew