It’s uncomfortable for any journalist to report on a presidential candidate bragging about groping women in explicit detail. But if you’re an adolescent writing for readers who are kids, it’s even more troubling.
The St. Louis student had been writing for the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps and classroom magazines for several months before she was assigned to cover the second presidential debate, where the video became a key talking point. CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the debate moderator, said to Trump, “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”
Appelstein knew she had to cover the topic, but she was also aware that she had to be careful when writing for a young audience.
In her story, Appelstein described a “controversial video of Trump” and “a huge backlash against Trump for his vulgar comments,” instead of directly repeating his lewd language. It was a decision with which the sixth-grader struggled.
“At first, I was a little unsure about how to put that in my article since I am writing for kids,” Appelstein told The Huffington Post. “I didn’t call it like a scandalous video about ‘sexual blah blah blah,’ I just called it a controversial video ... I feel like that kind of lets my readers know what it is, but it doesn’t go too much into detail so it doesn’t seem confusing or inappropriate.”
In an election cycle filled with allegations of sexual assault, rehashed accusations of infidelities and racially charged remarks about immigrants and inner-city residents, talking to kids about recent current events can be tough. Young writers with Scholastic have had to assess the best way to make their reporting child-friendly, while still remaining accurate. The company has about 20 kid reporters closely covering the final stretch of the campaign.
“This is such an unusual election. There’s been a lot of talk about it,” said Appelstein, referring to conversations that have taken place in classrooms and school cafeterias. “One of my friends, she has very strong views about strong women and things like that. She is very concerned about what Donald trump has said about women.”
Another Scholastic reporter, 15-year-old Gabe Ferris said his “classmates are a lot more involved than I thought they would be.” He can’t yet glean if their involvement is unique to this election, though. Ferris doesn’t have “a typical election to compare the 2016 campaign to” because he’s so young.
When writing about the campaign, Ferris likes to use his reporting to provoke a student-led conversation about important issues. He tries not to repeat the explicit language used by candidates.
“This language from both candidates, both of their stories, and accusations against both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is interesting. When I’m talking about it in a story ... it’s language that’s maybe not appropriate for a grade school student,” the Maine student said. “I like to maybe write something that provokes a question or a thought, that will maybe get the student reading or thinking and then they can ask their teacher or parents.”
For Maxwell Surprenant, a 13-year-old student from Massachusetts, it has “been challenging trying to find a way to write accurately and keep in mind I’m writing for kids.” So instead of writing about specific incidents, he tries to focus on people’s reactions to events.
“If there’s a quote with bad words or something inappropriate, I’m not going to write the exact wording but I can write about what people are thinking about that,” Surprenant said.
He isn’t sure if this election season is particularly graphic or if it’s par for the course. Still, if Surprenant had an opportunity to meet with the presidential nominees, he would remind them to remember the kids.
“What is their message for young people in our country?” Surprenant said he would ask the nominees. “I think it’s important to let them know that kids are listening and they need to be role models for kids who are watching the election, listening to what they say, and looking up to them as leaders.”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.