At a birthday party two years ago, Caroline Mulroney Lapham had a chance encounter that set her on a new career path.
She was introduced to entrepreneur Golnar Khosrowshahi, who had recently started writing an online newspaper for her kids. As soon as the daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney got home that night, she checked out the kid-friendly website, GoGoNews.com, which publishes articles both silly and serious about everything from politics to sports.
Ms. Mulroney Lapham, a mother of four, had stopped working as a lawyer in New York in the summer of 2005, shortly before the birth of twins and the family's move back to Toronto. Two years ago, she started visiting the site daily and chatting with her brood (who are all under the age of 6) about stories and jokes that took their collective fancy.
Impressed with the quality of conversation that GoGoNews seemed to spark, she called Ms. Khosrowshahi and expressed an interest in becoming actively involved in expanding and building the site.
"It was Caroline's passion that really took this website from a homespun venture I shared with my children (twin girls now aged 8) to something that scores of our family and friends now access on a daily basis," says Iranian-born Ms. Khosrowshahi, who officially became a partner with Ms. Mulroney Lapham on GoGoNews last winter.
"I'm a total news junkie," explains Ms. Mulroney Lapham, who was educated at Harvard.
"Golnar was concerned that the images [and] subject matter that her own twin daughters were being exposed to wasn't entirely appropriate, so she started doing a daily blog on news of the day. Word spread, and scores of her friends and their kids started following her newspaper, too.
"My family is also now totally hooked, and I've found I'm now having conversations with my kids I would not otherwise have."
The website is now used as a teaching tool in some Toronto schools (Montcrest, Sterling Hall and the Toronto French School), as well as a Montessori school in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Our goal is for this to become the homepage for families," says Ms. Khosrowshahi, who moved to Toronto in 2003 after spending 10 years living with her family in New York. "We're now working on a game section because we need to create a reason people, especially kids, are going to spend time on this site."
"But at the core, it's about news," adds Ms. Mulroney Lapham, whose father-in-law is the illustrious magazine editor Lewis Lapham. "We want to be on the top of people's minds when they're thinking about communicating to their kids. When something happens like the earthquake in Haiti, we turn to a resident psychiatrist to assess how to communicate that to an eight- or a 10-year-old. We're serious about the news, but we want to present it in an entertaining way."
Aimed at children aged 5 to 12, the site is updated 24 hours a day, seven days a week by Ms. Khosrowshahi and Ms. Mulroney Lapham from their office in midtown Toronto.
GoGoNews is sassy and easy to navigate, with the stories kept short and written in language that children can easily understand. Recent postings include the quarterly earnings of McDonald's, a Toronto Maple Leafs upset victory, a story on an Arabian mare who paints, and one on Japan's newest police dog, a seven-pound Chihuahua named Momo.
When an event such as a natural disaster happens, they'll often wait a few weeks to report on it. "There is not always going to be a positive angle, but we try and wait for one," Ms. Khosrowshahi says. "We focused on the relief effort so the news could be presented in the context that there is a brighter future."
The site is currently free of charge, but Ms. Khosrowshahi says they plan to start selling subscriptions to schools in the New Year to generate revenue. "It's really more of a passion project for both of us," adds Ms. Khosrowshahi, who is also president of her own music publishing company, Reservoir Media Management, still based in New York.
Zein Odeh, a Grade 2 English teacher at Toronto French School, has been using GoGoNews in her classroom for more than a year. And she says she's a proponent of the GoGoTeach component of the website (a dedicated platform for teachers designed by an educational consultant) because "it encourages her students to think more globally, make connections, and empathize with current dilemmas in our world."
Ms. Odeh's students pore over the site each day, and are encouraged to write journal entries on the stories that interest them most. They also write to the GoGoNews editors, asking questions that Ms. Mulroney Lapham and Ms. Khosrowshahi respond to daily.
"GoGoNews is helping me achieve my goal of helping my students become more, internationally minded, actively involved, responsible citizens of the world," Ms. Odeh says. "What's more, the website is fun and dynamic, with no distractions. I hope that one day we have a community of classrooms connected through GoGo discussing different points of view on the issues we face around the world.
"Today's students are very different from students from the past," she adds. "And it's vital to find ways to inspire and challenge our future leaders."