Tough economic times, foundation cuts and moving our office by March 1, 2013, have overburdened our budget and placed an undue amount of financial strain on the L.A. Youth family. While we celebrate our 25th anniversary this month we are regrettably closing the doors on this extraordinary organization at the end of February. This is our last edition of L.A. Youth.
A 25-year history produces an extensive body of relationships, memories and feelings. From the first group of teens writing stories on an old typewriter around my kitchen table, we moved to Saturday editorial meetings at the senior citizen center in West L.A. and finally our own space in the mid-Wilshire neighborhood. While I have the honor to write this letter, credit for L.A. Youth’s success is widely shared. Most important to me, I must recognize the colleagues with whom I have worked with at L.A. Youth. Together, we trained thousands of teens in writing, editing and critical thinking about issues relevant to their lives.
Every month more than 400,000 readers—teens, teachers, parents and civic leaders—read the compelling stories published in L.A. Youth and posted online.
While most teen writing was tedious and uninvolved, L.A. Youth had to be different. We put the emphasis on personal journalism, meaning lots of stories starting with the word “I.” We filled our pages with pieces that were heartbreaking or uplifting or funny, but always painfully honest. Our writers were encouraged to express their feelings; we wanted their voices to shine through. Instead of traditional newspaper style, our stories would be narratives, each with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Here are some highlights of our extraordinary accomplishments:
• We launched the Foster Youth Writing and Education Project in 2003
• More than 1,200 teachers used the newspaper every month in their classrooms
• We hosted a dozen public forums featuring teen reporters and community leaders
• Teen writers shared their personal stories about growing up on skid row, life in a juvenile detention facility, the impact of poverty on their lives, lack of mental health services, inadequate public schools and many other relevant topics
• Stories were reprinted in the Los Angeles Times, the Daily News, Time, Western Journal of Medicine and other publications
• Our stories were adapted for NPR’s Morning Edition and Marketplace
Some of our most heartfelt writing is in response to the essay contests that we feature in every issue. The contests are based on questions like “What would you do to change the world?” or “Tell us about your favorite teacher.” Once, we posed this challenge: “Write a letter to Mom and Dad. What would you like to tell your parents but have been afraid or embarrassed to share?” They wrote to us about their sexuality, abusive parents, poverty, being incarcerated and other painful events in their lives.
The role of our organization in all this was to coach and nurture the teens at L.A. Youth, to recognize the value of their ideas and guide each through weeks or months of writing and rewriting until a compelling story emerges. It can be a slow, arduous journey, the teen writer sitting side‑by‑side with an editor, carefully scrolling through paragraphs on a computer screen and then trying to make them better. A few stories have taken up to a year before they’re ready for publication. I jokingly refer to them as “the most expensive stories ever published.” But I tell myself it is worth the wait; after all, it takes courage to write something that you know thousands of readers will be judging.
The newspaper business is changing. It’s a grim picture: fewer readers, the decline of advertising dollars and layoffs in newsrooms across the country. The Internet is the new frontier. Yet, with all the hand-wringing about the future of print media, L.A. Youth is in huge demand. Why?
Because we’re a necessary idea. Young voices in journalism are so important. It’s one thing for a student to read a textbook chapter on immigrant rights— another to read a first-person account written by another teen. Beyond that, youth-produced media moves the discourse among teens from apolitical to activist.
My dream was to publish an excellent teen-written newspaper. It was fulfilled. We leave confident that the legacy is strong and hopeful. Perhaps we moved the world a bit in the right direction. We are confident our struggle was successful.
Donna C. Myrow, Executive Director