When Delbanco and a few of Time for Kids’ other high-level editors gathered to write the piece, they debated how much detail to include about the allegations of wrongdoing against Joe Biden and his son. In their discussions, they also nixed an infographic format that would have framed the impeachment as a sort of flowchart or choose-your-own-adventure scenario. (“Too many confusing possibilities,” Delbanco said.)
The part of the article that went through the most rewrites, Delbanco told me, was three paragraphs that describe what prompted the impeachment inquiry. “We are incredibly cautious to make sure that we are unbiased … I mean, everybody says that, obviously,” she said. “But I will say, in a classroom setting, it really does feel like an absolute do-or-die, to make sure that we convey that in everything we do. We have to hear from many audiences: students, teachers, parents, district leaders and school superintendents, and principals.” Time for Kids has received complaints from the aforementioned groups about coverage Delbanco herself found to be “benign”—such as articles that treat climate change and evolution as scientific facts. Time for Kids has lost readers over such statements, she told me.
Another important objective for editors of a children’s publication is to find a way to be factually correct and age-appropriate without infantilizing readers. That means no unnecessary exclamation points and no dismissive, hand-wavey oversimplification, even on particularly hairy subjects. “One of the things we know absolutely is that if we talked down to our readers, we’d lose them. We are trying to gain their respect,” Delbanco said, “by treating them like future citizens of the world.”
Every major news story has a threshold at which Delbanco knows Time for Kids will have to cover it. Many stories never get there, but impeachment unavoidably did. “So much of what we’re trying to do is demystify these things that kids might overhear or see something about on the news—at a restaurant when they’re sitting below a TV, or wherever it might be,” Delbanco said. “So we’re always looking ahead. When is that moment—when is the critical mass going to shift?”
And the impeachment story line, she noted, could be a particularly confusing one for people who are just starting to understand how Congress and the presidency work: “We know that kids are going to immediately hear impeachment and think it means that in the next week, we’re going to have to have a new president, and not totally understand.”
While impeachment was difficult to cover, it’s far from the hardest story Delbanco and her team have had to synthesize in recent memory. Time for Kids historically has not covered school shootings, but in 2018, it included an article about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Delbanco said she thought the incident, and in particular the student-led movement for school safety that grew out of it, presented an opportunity to cover a grim story with a certain degree of hope. The resulting article focused on how the teenage survivors were meeting with legislators and forcing a broader conversation about school safety; an insert in the prior week’s issue gave teachers a heads-up that the story was forthcoming.