How do you explain Brexit to children who don’t live in Europe, for whom the chaos in Britain is too far away to count? How about asking them to imagine what it would be like if their class separated from the rest of the school. What would the implications be? Would they still be able to use the playground? Or the cafeteria?
A Silicon Valley start-up did just that. The start-up, Xyza, runs a newspaper designed exclusively for children and creates stories that help them connect with the rest of the world.
Xyza’s founders, Sapna Satagopan and Joann Suen, met over a decade ago as students at the University of California, Davis. While Suen is a San Francisco native, Satagopan grew up in a number of Indian cities and was a software developer at Pricewaterhouse Coopers in Mumbai before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. Satagopan and Suen launched Xyza in 2017 to fill a vacuum in the space for news organisations that catered to the needs of children.
While growing up in India, Satagopan’s interest in news was sparked by a popular newspaper supplement for children. This drew her to current affairs, gradually leading her to the regular newspaper. She grew up hearing stories about journalism from her grandfather, who had been a reporter in Tamil Nadu during the independence movement.
When Satagopan’s children began going to school in San Francisco, it bothered her that all they had by way of news supplements were the sort that wrote about the world’s largest turtle. She found children’s sections of libraries stacked with magazines encouraging interest in science and technology, with virtually nothing on news.
She and Suen felt that, in a digital world, the one thing that often fell through the cracks was news focused on children. With newspapers no longer coming to one’s doorstep, and adults increasingly accessing news online, many parents were completely unaware of how their children accessed news.
“Kids often find news online in a vague sort of way, and have no interest in what they see. But news can be fascinating for children, if you provide a thoughtful way for them to access it,” says Satagopan.
Xyza has a rotating team of writers, including those with an academic background and experience writing for children. Xyza’s writers pose questions about issues such as gender segregation in chess, when a female grandmaster threw a match because she was constantly being paired with women in a tournament. Even stories on entertainment attempt to scrape the surface. A piece on singer Taylor Swift looked at interesting ways in which she thought of music and business.
Xyza is read by children in 35 states across the United States, as well as in Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore. The company is now looking to partner with organisations in India. Subscription-based Xyza has a readership of around 65,000 a month, split evenly between families and libraries. While it offers both print and digital subscriptions, an overwhelming number opt for print.
This may sound surprising in a world where print is in decline and newspapers around the world are going digital, but Satagopan feels this may have something to do with parents wanting to keep their children off the internet. It’s also proof that newspapers are not irrelevant in a digital world, especially those catering to the needs of their readers.
(The author is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area)