What do you remember about the news when you were nine?

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 1 September 2006

On the BBC Editors Blog, Newsround editor Tim Levell has been asking people to recall what they remember from the news when they were nine.

I must have been a news junkie even then though, as I remembered loads of the events quite clearly. It must have helped that we usually sat down for our family meal around 6pm with the news on in the background.

Looking at the list of significant events from October 1980 to September 1981, when I was a nine, the world seems a very busy and scary place to have been a child. There was a spate of high profile shootings - Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul, with the only successful assassination of the four being John Lennon. Bobby Sands died after a hunger strike, the Yorkshire Ripper was arrested, and the biggest thing on TV was the 'Dallas' mystery of who had shot JR. I remember Bucks Fizz winning the Eurovision Song contest, and I also remember watching the launch of the first space shuttle mission at my nan's house.

I'm fairly certain we must have moved house when I was 9. I remember hearing about John Lennon's death in our old flat, but I definitely hid in my upstairs bedroom in the new house to avoid having to watch the overblown hype of a royal wedding. I was clearly a solid anti-royalist even at that tender age.

Some things don't ever seem to change - Israel was bombing Beirut and had attacked Iraq's nuclear facilities, whilst the USA and Iran were involved in a diplomatic stand-off over the hostage crisis - a crisis that conveniently ended for Ronald Reagan on January 20th minutes after his inauguration as president.

There were some quirky things I remembered as well, which can only have come from seeing features on either Newsround or Blue Peter at the time. The story of Donna Griffiths is one example. She started sneezing in 1980, and didn't finish until 978 days later in September 1983. Every time I had a hayfever fit I started to worry I was going to end up like her.

Wikipedia has been the source for recalling all of this news, and one of the joys of community editing is you get to read what other people think have been landmark events. One of the significant events of the year listed on the 1981 page is that Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe met for the first time - well, it turned out to be significant to my record collection anyway.

Someone with an interest in Greece has also edited the 1981 page, so I found out quite a bit about what was happening back then in my newly adopted country - a 6.7 magnitude earthquake in Athens, a stampede at a football match that killed twenty people, a terrorist attack on the Greek mainland attributed to Hamas, and Greece entered the EU. No doubt at the time the British press was full of hysterical warnings about how the country was about to be flooded with cheap Greek labour.

This flurry of news nostalgia was triggered by the fact that the Newsround team are changing their focus to aim at younger children than before:

We are using larger pictures on the stories on the Newsround website and a larger text size on our TV bulletins. Our round-up of 20-second stories on our TV bulletins will be chosen on the strength of the pictures, rather than including stories which are "important" but visually dull (no more court arrivals). We are aiming to use simpler language in the first four sentences of our web stories, on the basis that that's the right amount for children who are slower at reading.

Of course, not everybody is happy with that, and already a couple of people are using the dreaded double D words about the new format either on the blog itself.

"When I was nine I watched the BBC News, and avoided the dumbed down Newsround. From your blog it looks like the dumbing down is set to continue."
"This really all seems crazy. Is it part of multiculturalism, with age-bands as different cultures? Why do all of these changes to existing services involve dumbing down? Are the interested and intelligent all expected to stay up for Newsnight or watch News24 or BBC Four (which require digital, which most children do not have on the televisions in their rooms)? Why is the BBC mainstream becoming like the kids in schools who ostracise "nerds" or "swots"? Why doesn't "inclusion" include intelligence? Who decides that is the type of country we want? Simply marketing folk?"

or elsewhere:

Perhaps I was a bit of a geeky child but I remember knowing how important this stuff was and how, in the future, I might want to look back on it and say, "I remember that." just as I am now. Why should we take that away from children, just to give them "visually interesting" stories, instead of the ones that really matter?

I guess only time will tell if it makes a big difference, but when you look at the way children's books change as they get older (smaller print, less pictures, more words) I guess it makes sense to change the news service that way if it is now only meant for young kids. I just hope there is a still a readily accessibile public service news broadcast for the age group that might now be missing out.

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