In the back of the journalism room at Paul Revere Junior High School in West Los Angeles recently, an adviser proposed a story about summer jobs.
Chanel Weinraub, 14, said she had talked to many students who lied about their age to get work. The blond ninth-grader said she thought employers preferred underage workers because they would accept minimum wage or less.
"Let's do some digging," said adviser Donna C. Myrow. "Let's go to the fast-food places first. Call a local ice cream store to find out what you have to do to get a job. And call a McDonald's. Ask if there's a main hiring place, and let's see if their policies are consistent."
The story and the techniques recommended to get it went much deeper than those of most junior high and high school newspapers, which focus on athletics and less provocative news events. But the students were not working on a school paper.
A National Service
Seated beneath rows of Time magazine covers pasted to the walls, they were planning stories for the Youth News Service (YNS), a national wire service for youth.
Seven bureaus in Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Washington, and Wilmington, Del., are each operated by about 20 junior high and high school students.
Three of the staffs publish monthly tabloid newspapers averaging 16 pages heavy with advertising. Through high schools, they distribute about 75,000 issues in New York, 70,000 in Chicago and 25,000 in Wilmington.
Oakland members produce a weekly 15-minute radio show and furnish copy for a full page that appears each Saturday in the San Francisco Examiner.
Students throughout the system also send stories by computer to the Washington office, which mails a 20-page news report every other week to 100 high schools across the nation.
The distribution system resembles that of the national wire services, the Associated Press and United Press International, and the writing often seems equally professional.
A recent report carried this first paragraph on a story about a proposal to require seat belts on buses:
"Climbing over the seats, changing places at least three times and hanging out the window may no longer be common activities for the restless riders of school buses."
A story on break dancing began:
"Doctors have discovered a new disease--break dancing. Although the vigorous whipping movements of the neck, arms and legs, along with the gyrations of the hips, and the head spins are crowd-pleasers, doctors say they are body bruisers."
A third story started:
"When the hot line rings at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C., chances are that someone is missing."
Very little is missing from stories like these, although YNS charges only $25 per year for its news report. Yet its attempt to enlarge its circulation and to raise its price to $60 next September may be difficult.
Alison Rittger, past president of the Southern California Journalism Education Assn. and the journalism adviser at Narbonne High School in Harbor City, said her students would not use YNS stories unless there was a strong local angle.
"The argument would always be that it (the story) doesn't have anything to do with us," she said. " . . . I think they would feel cheated having other people's bylines in the paper."
"When you conduct a journalism class you want your own students to create the articles," said Mike Wiener, the journalism adviser at Canoga Park High School and president of the Los Angeles Journalism Teachers Assn.
"It's a writing course. You don't want them to use something someone else has written. . . . The only thing we can use it for is ideas and some statistics, and that's why I wouldn't subscribe."
It is ironic that inner-city schools would not subscribe to the service because Rittger said the number of weekly school newspapers has dropped drastically in recent years, leaving a need for minority students to read about themselves and to be trained as journalists.
"Minority kids don't get involved in journalism with any real sophistication unless they . . . can be bused to schools in the outlying areas which have facilities," said Clint Wilson, associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern California.
"In the inner-city schools you find journalism is a low priority. . . . When I went to Fremont High School . . . we had a weekly newspaper and it was printed right on campus. There was widespread interest. . . . We attracted some of the brighter kids.
"Nowadays if you go to Fremont, you'll find they'd be fortunate to get a paper out in a semester. (Fremont Principal John Haydel said the school averages eight issues a year.) It won't look nearly as good, and it won't be as well-written."
In Urban Areas
YNS has no problems interesting minority reporters. Craig Trygstad, executive director of Youth Communication, the parent body of YNS in Washington, says that because most YNS bureaus are located in urban areas, minorities are well-represented.