L.A. Youth is a teen newspaper that goes out for free to all the high schools and middle schools in the Los Angeles area. It was founded to counteract censorship in high school newspapers and includes articles from teens all across L.A. including students in foster care and others who find a positive outlet for their creativity by writing for the paper. With a circulation of approximately 500,000, it is the largest newspaper by and for teens.
When I was in the ninth grade (17 years ago) I went to a free three day workshop at L.A. Youth to train you to write for their newspaper. I got to visit the L.A. Times and experience what it was like to be a reporter.
I remember scoring an interview with a retired teacher who had been involved in the creation of an innovative high school newspaper that had been censored by the administration at the school and become the subject of lawsuits. It was quite a coup when I called the school and they just gave me the retired guy’s home phone number. It was a rare rainy night in L.A. when I my mom dropped me off to meet this old hippie at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax and record his thoughts on what had happened many years prior. If you remember Hal Holbrook standing in shadows as Deep Throat in All the President’s Men, this guy looked just like that. I remember that he bought me my hot chocolate, that I was really nervous and soaking wet.
Even though that was just a practice article that never got published, I remember that experience vividly, fondly, and with a sense of adventure.
I went on to write two articles for the newspaper…one about how I was annoying my family by turning off lights and shutting off the water while they were washing their hands in the name of being an environmentalist called “I Was A Teenage Mutant Earth Nut” (long before An Inconvenient Truth) and another about how to apply for financial aid. The first article got picked up for their ten year retrospective and was reprinted in a book that L.A. Youth published of some of their interesting articles from the first ten years of the paper.
My article was mildly amusing (at least I think so) but other articles dealt with serious issues like teen sexuality, violence, coming to grips with your own culture, and the general malaise that goes along with being a teenager. From the letters written to the paper you can tell that it’s made a difference in the lives of both readers and newspaper writers.
My time with the teen newspaper was brief but important in my personal and professional development. I went on to become the editor of my high school yearbook and then revived our high school newspaper from the dead. I wouldn’t have had the courage without L.A. Youth. But my favorite moment of involvement with L.A. Youth came over a decade after I had left when a current student at my former high school was told to contact me to ask for my advice on how I had made our high school paper more relevant. The girl had heard about me from one of the adult editors at L.A. Youth.
I forwarded the teen copies of the school paper I had created which included articles on the most reliable condoms to use and marijuana use (subjects I knew nothing about but figured were of interest to the rest of the student body) and pictures of Beavis and Butthead debating our school mascot. I had become the Canter’s Deli hippie.
And now I write this blog.
My friend who drew the picture of me as an earth nut for the newspaper went on to design movie posters. Working at the paper was a memorable and important part of my growth and development. I can’t say it changed my life but I can say that my involvement was one of those experiences that played an important part in shaping who I am today.
Now the bad news
Surprise! Newspapers are in trouble. L.A. Youth which has been heavily subsidized by the L.A. Times for the past twenty years is being cut off by the larger paper and needs help to continue. This part of the story has been written about more thoroughly in the LA Observed blog.
While all newspapers are figuring out how to keep themselves relevant and stay alive, L.A. Youth in particular needs support. I was thinking that the paper could perhaps transition from a print copy to a blog but that would put the many disadvantage teenagers who read the paper and the majority of Americans who still don’t know what a blog is at a disadvantage. That day isn’t here yet and it’s important that the print copy stays alive. L.A. Youth reaches out to those teens who need help and it gets teens those teens in the habit of reading the newspaper.