Teen-age life is as tough and wonderful as ever, and Los Angeles is about as tough and wonderful a place to be a teen-ager as any.
That's the picture painted by high school students from throughout the county who write for LA Youth, a bimonthly newspaper produced by teens with a circulation of 100,000.
The newspaper gives teens a voice for their hopes and fears when such chances are few and far between. Budget cuts have killed many school newspapers and administrators have gained additional control over what those papers can say after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of high schools to censor student publications seven years ago.
LA Youth "provides an unrestricted voice, something we don't have anywhere else," said staffer Chidimma Obioha, 15, a Beverly Hills High School junior from Leimert Park.
With that unrestricted voice, teen-agers from throughout Los Angeles County report on the issues that are most important to them. Like events in their lives, the topics covered in the paper can be trivial or tragic.
In the latest issue there is a story on the reopening of the earthquake-damaged Northridge Fashion Center. An upcoming edition will list the best excuses for being tardy at school.
But the difficulties of adolescence are also probed. Teens reflect on confessing their homosexuality to friends, turning in their abusive parents to the police, and why they find it necessary to carry a gun.
More routine but equally nerve-racking problems get their space as well, and often with biting humor. There are stories on getting into college and a girl's exploration of her self-esteem and body image titled "My So-Called Boobs."
Very different views of L.A. life emerge from the writers, who come from public and private high schools as well as detention centers throughout the county. A boy in San Fernando Juvenile Hall wrote about his anxiety as he awaits his murder trial, while a recent immigrant from Russia told of her experience at an Orthodox Jewish school.
Some staffers go to great lengths to write for the paper. Co-editor Sherrie DeLaine, 17, a senior at Westchester High, rides the bus for an hour and a half, transferring three times to get from her home near Baldwin Hills to L.A. Youth's Wilshire Boulevard office.
An aspiring journalist who already has the blunt wit of a reporter, Sherrie said making the trip to get her stories in print is well worth it. "My school paper stinks," she said.
Mira Jang, 17, another co-editor, said that the publication lets her take on broader topics than her school paper at Beverly Hills High. "With the school paper, every story has to have an angle related to Beverly. We're not restricted by that here," said Mira .
Participation on the paper is open. Students can be referred to it by teachers, but many contact the office on their own. Sherrie said she decided to work for the paper after reading a copy at a library.
Genevieve Wong, 15, who is from Beverly Hills, said she first saw LA Youth when she picked a copy out of a trash can. After using a few pages to cover her book, she read it and was impressed enough to send in an application to become a reporter.
With 300,000 readers, LA Youth reaches more people than most local papers. It's come a long way from its birth in the kitchen of Pacific Palisades resident Donna Myrow, who is now the paper's executive director.
Myrow was a teacher when she started the paper in 1988. She was prompted to do so by the Supreme Court ruling that year that upheld the right of schools to censor papers, and her own daughter's experience with censorship at her high school paper.
Myrow and a few friends financed the first few issues, which were put together by high school students in her house and at a borrowed room in a nearby senior citizens center. The next year, a $100,000 grant from the Irvine Foundation allowed the paper to rent an office and hire a staff.
LA Youth now has two full-time managers to guide the students, and is supported by grants from several foundations. The Los Angeles Times prints the paper for free, and working journalists serve as volunteer mentors to the students.
Working with journalists and putting out a newspaper hasn't kept the students from developing the same distaste for the media often voiced by the public. The barrage of O.J. Simpson stories has been the target of two LA Youth items: "O.J. OD," and "Zzz . . . No More DNA PLEASE."
While LA Youth has weighed in on affirmative action and Prop. 187, the anti-illegal immigration measure, staffers say the grown-up press has much to learn about helping us all get along.
"The media always tries to instigate racism instead of emphasizing the love and respect people should have for each other," said Genevieve, drawing sarcastic chuckles from fellow staffers.
"Where are your beads and flowers? You sound like a hippie," chided Sherrie, who nevertheless acknowledged Genevieve's point. Sherrie said the LA Youth staff often disagrees strongly over issues.
The difference, she said, is that "We always have fun. Lots of fun."