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Five Questions: Podcasts That Fill A Critical Void

by Jennifer Massoni Pardini

Listening in the car or the classroom, kids across the country — including those above in Palo Alto — are paying attention to current events.

In serving up its daily bites of current events, KidNuz is giving children a better understanding of their world.

Your child or grandchild may already know the voice of Tori Campbell or Kimberly Hunter, the two anchors of the nonprofit KidNuz, which streams a weekday news podcast for kids to an estimated 100,000 listeners a day. Campbell and Hunter are also co-founders of the program, launched in 2018 along with school liaison Stephanie Kelmar and editor Ro Thomas Schwarz, whom they met while working together as broadcast journalists for KTVU’s Mornings on 2.

The four are also moms who have done the dance of educating children about the world while protecting them from its harsher realities. “I had to have news on 24/7 when I was producing Mornings on 2,” says Schwarz, who is based in the East Bay. (Hunter also lives in the East Bay; Kelmar is in Palo Alto; and Campbell reports from Singapore.) “My kids would be in the car [and] you could never have the dial too far away.” For Kelmar, it meant turning over the newspaper when the headlines or images were too much for her then 8-year-old to read.

As a self-described “current events ecosystem,” KidNuz, funded by sponsorships, strives to present unbiased content to an audience listening in the classroom or the car. Teachers and parents can decide to share more on certain subjects or if the 5- to 7-minute podcasts are just enough for now. But that doesn’t mean this news, geared to ages 8 to 12, is watered down or rose colored. “It would be very easy to ignore the hard stories,” says Schwarz of George Floyd’s death and last summer’s resulting Black Lives Matter protests.

“We never talk down. We want them to reach a little bit. It’s about the selection of the story; but equally important is how we write it and how we deliver it.” Recently, that has meant stories about giant goldfish, pop star Olivia Rodrigo’s visit to the Oval Office and Simone Biles’ bronze medal meaning as much to her as her golds.

Soon KidNuz will be branching out with teacher-created worksheets, a Junior Journalist program for budding reporters, and a media literacy corner so kids can verify real from biased. “For the most part, people have no idea where we fall on the political spectrum,” Schwarz says. “That was super important to us. … We only want to inform in a really safe way.”


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Ro Thomas Schwarz

As broadcast journalists and parents, what made you realize there was a fertile space for news curated just for kids?

Schwarz: It was frustrating for me, as a broadcast journalist and admitted news junkie, when my four kids came home from school unaware that some major story had happened. I assumed that they’d talk about it as a class. As I found out, there is no time in the school day for teachers to dedicate themselves to current events, and even if there was, no real framework for them to do so in an age-appropriate way. We created KidNuz to fill the void: a classroom-friendly, familyfriendly jumping-off point for timely events.

 

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Kimberly Hunter

The news has been challenging for all of us to absorb in recent years, with big topics to digest with kids about their world. What criteria did you establish for the format and content?

Hunter: We always want to be age appropriate and nonpartisan. But this does not mean “both-sides journalism.” If one side is false, we should not be reporting it. We always need to be truthful. As for content, variety is key. It’s great to have a mix of humaninterest stories, kids making news, sports, entertainment, business, politics, science.

 

3
Tori Campbell

What has surprised you most about the podcast’s reception among kids, as well as parents and teachers?

Campbell: I’d first visualized this podcast as a great thing for parents and kids to listen to at breakfast or in the car on the way to school as a way to spark conversation. And from the feedback we’ve gotten, I’m thrilled to learn that is indeed happening. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it’s gotten such a huge following among teachers who love to use it as a way to safely introduce current events in their classroom. We have a group of 12 in our newly formed Teacher Advisory Panel, from all over the U.S., who help us brainstorm ways to improve and grow. One teacher in this panel told me when she plays KidNuz, “it’s the quietest six minutes of my day” because her students listen so carefully to the podcast in order to get all the answers correct in the quiz [at the end of each episode].

 

“Being informed gives kids a stake in what’s happening in the world.” – Stephanie Kelmar

 

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Stephanie Kelmar

How does an understanding of appropriate current events benefit children in other areas of their lives? At school and at home, perhaps? Or as athletes and friends?

Kelmar: Being informed gives kids a stake in what’s happening in the world. We often choose stories highlighting kids who are making a difference in their communities, which we hope will inspire our listeners to follow suit. It also helps them participate in conversations around the dinner table and in the classroom, building their self-confidence by having something meaningful to contribute. For our athletes and sports fans, not only do we report on individual and team accomplishments, we make it a point to emphasize good sportsmanship.

5

In a few words, what does the news mean to each of you?

Schwarz: News gives us all a window to the world. With KidNuz, we’re giving kids a sneak peek, hoping that it helps them appreciate, understand and engage with current events in a way they couldn’t before.

Campbell: I’m deeply passionate about the importance of quality journalism to inform society on what’s going on in the world and I’m especially concerned about the reduction in local media, so thank you for your important work [at the Nob Hill Gazette].

Kelmar: News is a chronicle of our living history. It educates and informs about what’s going on around the world as well as in our own backyards. Not only do journalists help keep the powerful accountable; they document the human experience and share stories that inspire people to live their best lives.

Hunter: The news is so important to our understanding of our world. My biggest desire for KidNuz is to create responsible news consumers at a young age who will become critical thinkers who contribute to society and can decipher fact from fiction and know where to go for the truth.

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