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The Westport Independent

App review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
The Westport Independent App Poster Image
News simulator shows how the media can shape reality.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about how the media is dependent upon many factors and can have a lot of control over public perception. Because the app is text-heavy, kids will have to do a lot fo reading and really understand how changing the language can make a difference. Parents can help kids connect the dots between the idea of the newspaper and today's other versions of media outlets.

Ease of Play

Tap/drag controls work well; decision-making's the toughest bit. 

Violence

Mentions of explosions and other violence in newspaper articles.  

Sex

Newspaper articles mention "sexual deviancy." 

Language

Rare instances of "sh-t." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Newspaper articles mention drunkenness. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Westport Independent is a news simulator that puts players in charge of a fictional newspaper in the year 1949. Though time and place are fictional, the app's content is extremely timely and examines the political danger of telling the truth under an oppressive regime. New articles reference drunkenness, explosions, violence, and "sexual deviancy." Rare profanity occurs in the form of the word “sh-t.” The app is text-heavy and relies on reading comprehension. Note: At this writing, the developer has no privacy policy.

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What's it about?

THE WESTPORT INDEPENDENT lets kids become the editor of a fictional newspaper in charge of deciding which stories see the light of day and how they're spun. Players have 12 weeks before a “Public Culture” bill is enforced by the government -- a bill that dictates the kinds of news that can be shared with the public and that will shut down any media outlets that refuse to comply. Each week, players are given a handful of news stories and allowed to choose a few to print. Before going to press, players can decide whether to report the stories in full or selectively edit them to support one political faction or another. They can also choose between a plain, factual headline or a more sensational one. During the layout phase, players can choose the order in which articles appear, and can customize both story content and advertising to appeal to specific subsets of the population. Depending on their choices, players can lose their employees' loyalty, change public opinion, or bring the government down upon them.

Is it any good?

This simple simulator focuses on telling a good story and letting kids experience how news outlets hold the power of perception in their pens. The Westport Independent puts you in charge of making complicated, life-and-death decisions. It doesn't seem that way at first; you're just the editor of a local newspaper, tasked with raising your papers' profile and selling as many papers as you can. The arrival of a certain “Public Culture Bill” though, raises the idea of “appropriate” content, as well as the stakes of publication. From then on, every decision you make has the potential to, at least, alienate your employees (who all have their own political beliefs) and at most, bring government agents to your door. If you want to play it safe, you can fixate on fluff -- celebrity gossip and the like -- but if you want to report the big stories, you'll have to take sides. That means acting as a government mouthpiece, spinning stories to make certain groups seem beneficial and even heroic, or helping the populace by telling the unvarnished truth. It's not easy: The Westport Independent makes clear the risk you take reporting on things like industrial safety, joblessness, and police brutality. And what's great about it is that it makes you responsible for what the public knows and expertly demonstrates how complicated (and dangerous) it is to do the right thing. It also introduces the idea of distribution, and how money can also affect how media outlets convey the news. Parents can help kids connect the dots between the newspaper in the game and the current, varied forms of news that exist today, including clickbait and misinformation. In our media-soaked political climate, The Westport Independent is a great tool for teaching kids how important it is to have a free press, as well as how media spin alters our perception of reality.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about freedom of the press in The Westport Independent and in real life. What does freedom of the press mean? 

  • Think about why freedom of the press is important. What happens to societies when governments suppress the media?

  • Discuss the importance of truthful reporting. What happens to our confidence in the press if it "spins" stories to fit a certain political narrative? 

App details

For kids who love news literacy and simulations

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