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Ephesus Elementary second-grader covers the Town in Youtube newscast

John Wortman, creator of John News on Youtube, poses for a portrait while climbing a tree on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020.

“John News” isn’t like most news outlets. For this Youtube newscast, the job of anchor, reporter and weatherman falls to one Chapel Hill resident: second grader John Wortman. 

In the most recent episode of “John News," Wortman learned about mules, spoke to an astronomer and listened to an artist. He said science is a main focus of many of the episodes.

“I watch a lot of science channels," he said. "One that I like is Colossal Questions, but that isn’t really why I started. I wanted to make people feel happy during coronavirus times and I’ve always wanted to make Youtube videos.”

Wortman is a second grader at Ephesus Elementary School.

"He stopped going to school on March 13, (when) school became remote,” Thomas Wortman, John Wortman’s father, said.

In May, after his school went remote, John Wortman started his news channel. 

He said one benefit of remote learning is how it makes putting the newscast together easier and lets him spend more time with his father.

Wortman said he also enjoys remote learning because it allows him to spend time with his father. 

“I like getting to be with my dad more. It’s a much easier way to make ‘John News’ than going back to school and coming home to make it,”  Wortman said.

Since then, his story has been featured on WRAL, NPR’s newsletter "The New Normal" and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation Facebook page. It has reached audiences around the globe from Indonesia to France to Washington.

Wortman said his favorite episode of his newscast was episode 16, where he spoke to Ephesus Elementary School Principal Eric Taylor about school during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We talked about a lot of things like what it is like to be a principal during coronavirus time,” Wortman said. “What it was going to be like for students and remote learning. He said, ‘Well John, expect more screen time.’” 

Taylor said that he was honored to be on “John News.” He said Wortman is a committed student and follows through on his undertakings. 

“He’s a very bright student,” Taylor said. “He’s very smart and that comes through with his articulation in his questioning. He articulates in how he gives his updates, the data that he shares around coronavirus and the numbers. His intelligence shows through in his broadcast.”

For each episode, Wortman and his father sit down and come up with story and interview ideas together. From there, they put the newscast together and write the script.

“I look at the news and see what there is, then I talk to my dad to figure out (the news show),” he said. 

In every newscast, Wortman or one of his special guests remind viewers to wash their hands, maintain social distance and always wear a mask.

Wortman and his father are also selling “I love John News” shirts through Love Local Triangle. The proceeds from the shirts go to TABLE, a nonprofit organization that helps to feed children in the Chapel Hill area. The link to the shirts can be found in the description box of his Youtube videos.

With 22 episodes on his growing news channel, John Wortman is well on the way to becoming a local celebrity, and his newscast a Chapel Hill news staple.

Lucia Hagert contributed reporting. 


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