News media in India has had quite a bit of bashing lately for sensationalising news-related developments. For instance, the recent death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput by suicide has been treated irresponsibly by many major media houses – highlighting the method of suicide and even circulating pictures of the deceased’s body.
Not only is this against the guidelines provided by World Health Organisation to media on reporting suicide, such irresponsible reporting can also be a trigger to people who are going through difficult times, especially during a nation-wide lockdown period which is already leading to rise in mental health issues. Not to forget, children who may be following the news are also getting incorrect, confusing information on these topics, often leaving them scared or anxious.
In fact, children are a part of the media audience who has not received a lot of attention from media houses in terms of providing news with sensitivity and attention to details. What is relevant to the ‘adults’ may not be interesting for children. However, getting them interested in news is essential to bring up the next generation of socially conscious, politically aware citizens.
To provide relevant content to children in a manner that keeps them interested is what motivated four mothers in Gurugram to be entrepreneurs. Shikha Chaturvedi, Gayatri Luthra, Ruchi Mitroo, and Priya Wadhawan recently co-founded IGRAASP, a Youtube channel providing news and fun facts for children across age groups.
In a chat with MAKERS India, Shikha explained the purpose of IGRAASP, “We encourage children to watch these news capsules with their parents and to have a healthy discussions following that. Overloading of information does not help. We want to emphasize the positive aspects but also let them know that these events are going on.”
Launched earlier this year, IGRAASP is a curated weekly news channel for children to provide them with relevant, filtered news content that is devoid of bias and negativity. The content is relevant yet simple, categorised into News – national, international, sports, science, and environment – and ‘Fun Square,’ a collection of fun and facts, trivia, book recommendations, etc.
An educationist with years of experience in teaching and corporate jobs, Shikha explains, “If the news is about rape or violence, you cannot really get into those kinds of details for children - because the purpose is not to sensationalize the information. We only need to give it as a piece of information- that there are these things that our world is grappling with.”
Shikha adds that based on the children’s age group, school teachers can choose delve into greater details. “How you explain Coronavirus pandemic to a six-year-old is different from how you would explain it to a 10-year-old. To the former, you can say there is a virus spreading and therefore we will not be able to go to school now. But the latter needs to be given more scientific details,” she tells MAKERS India.
IGRAASP’s news anchors are school and college kids who make news transmission fun. The maximum duration of a show, whether in English or in Hindi, is 12 minutes. These weekly news capsules are aired on YouTube every Sunday and are intended to make kids smart, knowledgeable, and future-ready.
The team of eight includes editors, graphics designers, and social media manager, besides the founders. “We wanted people who are passionate about the work that they did and who understood our business. So most of them are young kids, fresh out of college, freelancing with us mostly,” notes Shikha. All the scripting and curation of articles and relevant news is done by the founders themselves.
Growing During COVID-19 Crisis
The IGRAASP team was doing biweekly episodes when the nation-wide lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic started. “We could not go to the studio, and had to shoot individually at home. So monitoring and was very difficult, but we still managed it and we are very happy with the outcome,” says Shikha.
Shikha thanks all the children who have been IGRAASP’s news anchors, and their parents, for supporting the channel during the lockdown period. “Most of the kids were appearing for their online exam and had many projects to work on. But nobody has shied away from working hard, despite innumerable back-and-forth discussions. Even if they mispronounce a word, or if there's background noise in the video, we have to tell them that you have to rerecord the entire thing. But they had no complaints,” she says.
For Shikha, the kind of enthusiasm the children bring is the motivation to keep going. “The feedback that these kids are getting is phenomenal. They're just helping us out and not doing it for money. They're not getting anything out of it except a mention of their name and the school name in a tiny banner,” Shikha notes.
Although Shikha stresses that revenue generation is not the primary goal for IGRAASP at the moment, she explains the potential sources of revenue too. “YouTube gives you a scope for monetization and advertising. This is a very educational field. Depending on the demands we are definitely open to diversifying both in the age categories and also for content. So eventually, we will branch into other areas which could be charged but news for the kids is going to be free,” she tells MAKERS India.
Shikha claims that the feedback from their audience – children- has been positive and constructive. “My domestic help told me that if we start doing this in Hindi, then her daughters can also watch it. So we have started doing news episodes in Hindi also. We even do book recommendations in English and Hindi. We eventually want to get into other languages also,” she adds.
IGRAASP started off in February this year and on 15th March the team realized that they could not risk calling the kids to their studio. “We could not risk ourselves to go to the studio. So a lot of things got stalled in pushed to a later date,” says Shikha. But she is hopeful about the future plans.
“We're trying to get some professionals on board – especially child psychologists and paediatricians. In fact, we plan to do an interview series for some of these professionals to also answer queries from children, as an interactive segment. We have spoken to a lot of librarians too, making a list of the kind of literature to recommend for children.”
For a new generation of citizens unaffected by the negativity spewed by a major chunk of current news media, IGRAASP could be the leading light.