27 Mar 2016

Don’t feel guilty… but you short-changed readers

From Mediawatch, 9:10 am on 27 March 2016

Last weekend's Sunday Star Times had a front page headline to alarm parents of young children: "Don't feel guilty, but childcare endangers kids".  But those who paid to read all about it in the paper got less information than those who read the fuller version online for free.

A headline to chill time poor parents

A headline to chill time poor parents Photo: Screen shot

Last weekend The Sunday Star Times led with a story on a just-released report by the Brainwave Trust that found there were risks associated with preschoolers under three spending long hours in childcare.

The 700-word story appeared under the provocative headline:

Working mums and dads: Don't feel guilty  - but childcare endangers kids.

Condensing a 90-page literature review to just 700 words is not easy, but after obligatory reaction from the early childhood sector, lobby group Family First, parents and the minister of education Hekia Parata there was very little space to substantiate startling claims like those contained in the story's sub-headings:

Toddlers in care are more likely to display aggression, hyperactivity and disobedience.

Health risks include higher rates of respiratory illnesses, antibiotic use and obesity.

No experts familiar with the long-running debate on the effects of childcare on child development were quoted. If parents who read the story - and that headline -  were left feeling guilty, there was little hard information to base that feeling on.

However, it was a different story for readers online at stuff.co.nz,

Under the more sedate headline:

Scientific report identifies health and behaviour risks for kids in care

the online story was more than twice the length of the one on the Sunday Star Times front page.

It included an explanation of how stress hormone cortisol remains at higher levels in under-twos in childcare. It also quoted Victoria University's professor of early childhood studies Carmen Dalli as saying New Zealand wasn’t doing enough for under-twos.

"In many centres the least qualified adults are put in with the babies because people still have the view you don't need to know much," she said. She also said childcare centres should have teachers which are all qualified, and one teacher for every three children aged under two. 

In other words, in the professor’s opinion, it’s not necessarily mums and dads who should be feeling guilty but the government, which should require a higher standard in childhood education.

But that’s a point of view that the readers of the Sunday Star Times, who had forked out $3.20 to read the story the old fashioned way, missed out on entirely – and there was nothing in the print edition to tell them they could find more online or where to read the full findings of The Brainwave Trust’s report.