A Dispatch from the Field
Entry 1: Teacher’s Helper
My job isn’t one you’d normally associate with “youth media.” I don’t work with kids and I don’t raise money. I do make sure the teen-written paper L.A. Youth stays connected to the people and places it needs to; that Donna, our executive director, can find organizations to support us; that teachers using our magazine in class feel welcome to call; that teens wanting to write for us can.
The summer after I graduated from college I moved back to Los Angeles feeling a little lost. I remembered how when I’d interned at L.A. Youth as an undergrad I’d liked it. In a city as large and scattered as Los Angeles, it was nice to be part of a community that brings together people with different lifestyles and from different neighborhoods. So when Donna offered me a fulltime position as administrative director, I was grateful.
Teachers comprise a major part of that diverse L.A. community, so helping them is a big part of my job. Just today I talked to one in Indio, California, who works with juvenile offenders. He came across our teachers’ guides online and wants to use the teens’ stories about incarceration with his students.
Before working here, I didn’t realize how many teachers scour the web for lesson plans. Like the teacher today, many stumble across ours through Google searches. Some call saying how much of an impact the stories have had on their classes.
But other teachers tell me they are too busy covering all the state-required material in class to add L.A. Youth to the curriculum. They can only distribute it as a silent reading option. So I’m heartened when I get calls like one that came in today—a high school English teacher wants to increase her subscription from 40 to 120 copies. “They are wonderful to use with our kids in detention,” she says. “When given the option, they always take a copy, and I think it really keeps them from getting into any further mischief, if you know what I mean.”
I tell her I do, and then file her feedback in my “L.A. Youth Praise Folder,” which I show to other teachers who are considering subscribing.
Entry 2: Breaking News—We Make Headlines!
L.A. Youth recently covered fights at L.A.’s Jefferson High School. The fights were fueled by racial tension, which plagues many local schools. An editor here works with a group of students at Jefferson, so we had almost immediate access to the story.
Two reporters from the L.A. Times asked to use some of our quotes in an article. These requests occur frequently enough without materializing into anything that we usually don’t think much about it. But this past weekend the L.A. Times ran an article with quotes from a student’s testimony we had published!
Since it provides such a good example of how a teen paper can impact the mainstream media, I mailed the article to the people and groups who have invested money in us.
Entry 3: Holding On
Today the place is buzzing with teens and phone calls. Even though my office is set apart from the editors, I always find it easier to work when I hear kids goofing off in the next room.
A 13-year-old calls from San Diego saying she wants to submit a story. She says she’s been in foster care for a year and a half, and a social worker gave her the flyer for our program just before she moved from Los Angeles to San Diego, where she now lives with extended family.
I am often surprised and moved by how young people manage to hold onto information that is somehow significant to them—like that flyer—even when their lives are so chaotic.
Entry 4: Pockets of Community
Today I talk with a parent of a Korean student who was referred to L.A. Youth by a friend. Libby, our managing editor, tells me that L.A. Youth has unintentionally created a “Korean network” in which one family tells another about the paper—providing us with a constant stream of kids from that community.
Often little unexpected pockets of community like this send us writers for stretches of time. A teacher might urge students to write for us, and provide us with a steady stream of reporters. But when that teacher retires, we lose our connection to that school, sometimes for years.
Our office community itself is more predictable. Most of the adult staff have been around a while, and we always have a handful of regular writers. Part of what makes us such a tight bunch are our monthly staff lunches. Sometimes we have theme potlucks. Today the theme is “peanuts.” Our dishes include: peanut noodles (my contribution), peanut butter soup, eggplant with peanut sauce and peanut butter cookies. The kids in the office stop in to sample the food and we discuss everything—politics, food, bad pop music, growing up in American versus growing up in Japan, and TV.
Entry 5: Transatlantic Teens
A sluggish day. Three kids who were supposed to show up didn’t, so everyone feels stranded. I respond to mail from someone who taught in Kosovo. I tell her it would be great to get some short articles from Kosovo teens about their life and goals. We’ve already established a kind of “global news reporting” collaboration with youth publications in Uganda, Mongolia, and Great Britain. We’ve found that kids in other countries are quite eager to learn about teens in L.A., and L.A. teens are interested in international youth.
There just aren’t many outlets for teens wanting to learn about their counterparts in other countries, so we hope this global exchange will get them engaged with the wider world.
Entry 6: Giving Thanks
When I open the office, the phone rings the second I turn off the answering machine. I’m used to this, since many of our teachers are early-bird callers. The only time they have to themselves is right before school.
When I pick up the phone a voice like my grandmother’s warbles from the other end of the line. “Hello dear, I’m just calling to confirm my subscription for next year.”
“Of course, thank you for calling. Can I get your name, please?”
She gives me her name and I look her up in our database. I learn that she’s a Sunday school teacher who heads the youth ministry group at her church. She’s also the local superintendent of all the Sunday schools in her area.
Because we run a lot of matter-of-fact articles related to sex, we don’t often hear from teachers at religious schools or church groups. Sometimes they subscribe, but promptly cancel when we publish an article they find controversial, like the story we published in May about a girl’s visit to Planned Parenthood, or the March feature about a girl with two moms. But things seem to be changing. This year, none of the parochial schools and religious organizations receiving the paper have cancelled, and a local all-boys Catholic school has begun subscribing.
I tell the Sunday school teacher that she’s all set to get a large bundle of 185 copies in September.
“Thank you dear. I appreciate it and my children really enjoy it.”
I thank her in return, impressed, as I so often am, by how teachers and young people from every background manage to embrace the paper. When I’m struggling with a broken copier or a glitch in my computer, it’s nice to get calls like these, reminders how much my work matters.
After two years at L.A. Youth, Monika Verma recently took a position at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency in New York. She is confident that all the connections she made and the skills she learned (including cooking) at the paper will help her in this new phase of her life.
Want to journal about your work in youth media? Write Kendra Hurley at email@example.com.
Six days in the life of the administrative director for the teen-produced newspaper L.A. Youth.