On June 26, 2020, News-O-Matic published its 2,000th consecutive edition. Below, Editor-in-Chief Russ Kahn shares a look back at the history of News-O-Matic.
News-O-Matic began with a simple idea: Young people deserved the chance to learn what was happening in their world. Too many adults thought kids didn’t need to know the news. Even worse, some thought they shouldn’t. We disagreed with that strongly. Young people share this world with their parents and teachers. They needed the opportunity to understand how the world is changing too.
Back in 2012, there wasn’t any daily news for kids in America. This was a huge problem! Where could kids turn to learn about the events as they happen each day? This is their world too! Lillian Holtzclaw Stern and Marc-Henri Magdelenat were the founders of News-O-Matic. Russell Kahn from New York City (that’s me) became the editor. Together we worked to build a newspaper just for kids.
The newspaper had to be fun. So we hired play experts to help us create an app that young people would enjoy using. We designed a dog mascot, named Newsie, who would appear on the front page of every edition. We made an online “News Room” that allowed users to ask questions, write comments, or even draw pictures. One early user named Lilly drew a picture of herself using News-O-Matic, and below that she wrote, “I can’t stop reading!” We liked that message so much that it became our company’s slogan.
We also had to make sure all kids could understand the stories. So we wrote the articles at a few different text levels, from kindergarten to grade 8. And we read each article out loud so anyone could listen along. Soon, we added translations (including text and audio) for Spanish, French, and then Arabic. That meant kids would be able to understand our stories, wherever they lived!
Perhaps most importantly, our news had to be safe. So the first person we hired was a child psychologist, Dr. Phyllis Ohr. She reviewed the first edition before it went live — and she has checked every edition ever since. We also wanted everyone to know where the information in News-O-Matic came from. So we added a “Citations” button, which would allow students to learn exactly how we build each story.
News-O-Matic went live with its first edition on November 12, 2012. One of the stories on that day was about a brave young girl named Malala Yousafzai. The 15-year-old from Pakistan got hurt for standing up for her right to learn. Malala represented things we believed in — education, literacy, and girls’ rights. We made her our first “Kid of the Year” in 2012.
As the years passed, we made a brand-new edition every weekday. We kept going during the summers and on all the major holidays. After all, the news doesn’t stop! Plus, students should have new stories to read even when (or especially when) they’re not in school.
We wrote about almost every topic and every place on Earth. That includes sports and space, fashion and fish, plants and penguins. Of course, we reported on breaking news — with elections and leaders and lots of new laws. We always tried to speak with all the experts behind the news — including the scientists, the lawmakers, and the explorers. And we covered all the countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Best of all, our storytelling included the voices of our readers. We’ve let young people share their stories, and we’ve tried to make the world hear what they have to say. (That’s why we feature kids’ drawings and comments in our News Room every single day.)
This is now the 2,000th edition of News-O-Matic. With five new stories every weekday, we’ve now written 10,000 articles in total. What a number: ten thousand! As the editor-in-chief, I know that I have learned so, so much along the way. I hope our readers have too.
We always believed that our stories could change the lives of our readers and that they could inspire young people to do great work. Judging from Isabella’s story, it seems that we’ve done our jobs. But we’re not done. In fact, we’ve got some great changes ahead that will improve the experience for every News-O-Matic reader out there.
So, stay tuned and keep reading!
By Russell Kahn, Editor-in-Chief