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May 9, 2016updated 25 May 2016 9:46am

Weekly children’s newspaper marks tenth birthday with record circulation after pundits first greeted it with ‘ridicule’

By Freddy Mayhew

Children’s newspaper First News celebrated its tenth birthday this week with a front-page tribute from the Duchess of Cambridge next to a photo of David Cameron clutching a copy.

The weekly paper, which claims to have more than two million young readers, published its first issue on 5 May 2006. In 2013 it supplemented the print edition with an app for mobile and tablet and in January this year published its 500th issue.

The Duchess offered her congratulations to the paper and its readers and wished them “every success” for future editions.

“You are doing such an important job ensuring that young people are informed about current events and issues,” she said.

“Through my work with organisations supporting children and young people, I have seen the important of giving children a platform for their voices to be heard on the issues that matter most to them.

“Children can be affected by such a range of complex and challenging circumstances and it is heartening to see First News covering important stories such as mental health and wellbeing in an informative and sensitive way.”

According to ABC circulation figures, First News has increased sales consistently since 2007. It began with an average yearly figure of 38,000 rising to the current record annual average of 76,394.

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Editor and founder Nicky Cox MBE said the paper finds its way through the letterbox at 10 Downing Street and that David Cameron and George Osborne’s children are known to leaf through is pages. The children surrounding Cameron on the front of the latest edition won their place at his side after the paper ran a competition asking for ten-year-olds to send in a video of a question they would ask the prime minister. . The pupils then spent an hour with Cameron in the White Room at Downing Street.

Cox told Press Gazette that First News hadn’t always received the level of support it now does.

“When we first launched it was actually to much ridicule,” she said. “All the pundits said it was a crazy idea and that children weren’t interested in the news and if they were they would read it on the internet. So it’s good to be here ten years later and with more readers than them.”

She said there was “a job to be done” at the paper’s launch because “people weren’t used to talking to kids about what’s going on in the world” but added the world had become “a much smaller place” in the last few years given the rise in mobile technology.

“First news actually serves a really important function,” she said. “We have a real purpose now; there’s so much misinformation on the internet and stories can be wildly exaggerated that we actually serve a useful purpose in that we can clear up any misinformation so children can hear accurately about what’s going on.

“If you try to keep your kids sheltered from what you don’t want them to hear about, the chances are if they have got a mobile phone then they are going to be getting that information anyway and even if they don’t they will be hearing about it in the playground.”

Cox reveals her highlight of the past ten years was a feature about child soldiers that gained political momentum. “Some of our readers said they had had no idea about child soldiers and asked what they could do to help,” she said. “We got a letter together [petitioning for an end to the practice of using children as soldiers] and said we would send it to the government.”

The letter received 235,000 signatories and was handed to the foreign secretary who then held a special session with the United Nations on the issue. Said Cox: “Children had their voices heard by the UN.”

With its team of 40 staffers, the London Bridge-based title has a busy year ahead with plans for more content growth. In April it launched the inaugural First News International Edition, still an English language paper but with a focus on global stories that is delivered to readers as far afield as Russia and Dubai.

Coming soon is iHub, an online resource tool for teachers that will give them access to the latest child-friendly news topics and related information that can be used to structure lessons.

But by far the biggest step First News is making is in digital broadcasting. Cox said the First News Live news channel, to be hosted on its website, would create a medium that is not only for children but produced by them too. Chris Rogers, formerly of Newsround, has joined the team as digital editor and filming has already begun for video reports on topics including the problem of stray dogs in Cuba and a look at the Rio Olympics this summer.

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