L.A. Youth was created Jan. 13, 1988 after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier empowered school administrators to control the content of school newspapers. Many high school journalism programs and newspapers were devastated by this decision. At 3:30 that afternoon former teacher Donna Myrow gathered 15 teens around her kitchen table to discuss the idea of publishing an independent, city-wide, teen-written newspaper. L.A. Youth’s mission from the beginning was to fill the void by restoring a free press and creating for young people a journalism program that fosters critical thinking, writing skills, literacy and civic education.
L.A. Youth printed two issues that first year, with 2,500 copies each time. The response from teens, teachers and parents exceeded our wildest expectations and copies were snapped up faster than we could print them. Letters poured in from readers who told us how reading L.A. Youth had helped them solve personal problems and opened their eyes to new ideas.
From those humble beginnings L.A. Youth grew and grew. In 1999 L.A. Youth began publishing six issues a year and launched its website. By 2002, L.A. Youth had an estimated readership of 350,000 readers, making it the largest independent teen newspaper in the United States. L.A. Youth was distributed for free to teachers in public, charter and private schools, nearly 400 community-based youth programs and all libraries. The stories were also used by people who worked in juvenile justice and foster care. The paper was also sent to students in China, France and Africa.
None of that would have been possible of course without the teen staff writers, photographers and illustrators who produced the amazing work that touched millions of lives throughout our 25 years. What started with 15 students became a staff of nearly 100 active students by the mid-2000s. These staff writers included youth in the foster care and probation systems who joined L.A. Youth through our special Foster Youth Writing and Education Project which began in 2003. Through this project, L.A. Youth gave a voice to the most disenfranchised youth in our community, improving their self-esteem and writing skills and helping them prepare for life on their own after they left the system.
Our students displayed courage, humor, intelligence and wisdom when writing their articles and dedication and resolve when undergoing round after round after round of revisions with the adult editors who shepherded the stories through to completion. The hard work always paid off in great stories and awards and recognitions. From 2002-2005 eight L.A. Youth students were recognized at the Los Angeles Times High School Journalism Awards, which sadly no longer exist. And L.A. Youth stories were reprinted in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times Upfront Magazine among many others, as well as adapted for NPR, and our writers also appeared in local and national news reports to represent a teen point of view. L.A. Youth alums worked at the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, Channel One News TV, The Chicago Reporter, Dance magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, NY1 News, The Kansas City Star, the Orange County Register and National Public Radio.
L.A. Youth was a tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profit. Funding came from foundation grants, corporate donations, individual donations and partnerships with other organizations on projects like de-stigmatizing mental health or promoting “green” living. More than 5,000 groups and individuals supported L.A. Youth, none more than the Los Angeles Times, which donated the printing of the newspaper for almost the entire history.
Unfortunately, tough economic times beginning around 2007 hurt us. Foundations were cutting back, and California’s financial crisis took a toll on our sustainability. In January 2013, L.A. Youth made the decision to close shortly after publishing its 25th anniversary issue.
While L.A. Youth may no longer be publishing new issues, our stories are still relevant today. We encourage teens, teachers, parents and anyone curious about teen perspectives on important issues to explore our stories through our archives (you can use the search box or click on Archives to view previous issues).