The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria) dedicated the first edition of its new media format, “Sofia Talks Media,” to the coverage of events related to children and young people. The conference brought together renowned journalists and media professionals from Europe and around the world to discuss media ethics in reporting news involving children, what we know about the young audience, how news reaches them, how to write about children and young people, and much more. The conference featured specific media outlets for children and young people from Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Denmark, along with the experiences of the people behind them.
During the conference, a panel discussion on youth participation focused on the perspectives of young people. Approximately 20 boys and girls from Bulgarian high schools and universities shared their vision of what the media should be like. They highlighted several key points:
- Young people are often portrayed negatively in the media, mostly linked to problematic cases or presented as part of statistics, like the number of couples passing their exams. Adults talk about their topics but often fail to truly understand their issues. In short, adults tend to speak on behalf of young people.
- To make content more appealing to young audiences, it should be presented in short videos with dynamic content. Young people want to be featured during prime time, and their voices should be heard during peak hours on major media platforms.
- Information should be presented in a format entirely oriented towards digital devices, and TikTok should not be overlooked as a media platform, as young people actively use it due to its quick and easily digestible content. Traditional media is not obsolete, but they should definitely develop their presence on social platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.
- Content should be both visually and textually engaging since not everyone can use audio in public places, but they can read short video captions. Young people are interested in thematic podcasts and short trailer-like formats that lead to more detailed content.
- The panel participants expressed a desire for the development of school media, supported by and for children, to foster a habit of reading news and seeking quality information from an early age.
- Regarding representation in the media, young people emphasized that they should be the ones speaking about and for themselves, while adults can share their experiences but not dominate content creation. The media should not censor opinions and viewpoints, even if they may spark debates. The truth should be presented as it is.
- Young people are interested in topics related to culture and education, college and university-related matters, career choices, and future professions. They also want to hear more about human stories, told by adults, but not as criticism or advice, rather as sharing experiences.
- They want more positive news and achievements, not just reports on shootings and disasters. They are also interested in environmental preservation, but they want concrete information on how to do it, not just why it’s essential to protect the planet.
- Regarding LGBT topics, they want normalization. People should be portrayed as they are in reality, without sensationalizing the topic or exploiting it for external purposes beyond LGBT issues. Additionally, they believe that topics like sex, addictions, mental health, and illnesses like bulimia should not be taboo subjects.
- For political news, young people desire more context and explanations, even if something is surprising to them, as they are indeed interested in politics.
A striking remark from the panel was: “It is clear that we need shared experiences, but please don’t treat us like we are less than you, don’t be condescending.”
The National Network for Children was a partner in the Sofia Talks Media: Youth conference. Key highlights from the two-day event can be found on the AEJ-Bulgaria website.