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A paper produced by teens for teens is no longer pressing ahead

For 25 years, L.A. Youth was distributed to classrooms across Los Angeles County. Now, because of financial struggles, its final issue hits campuses this week.

January 20, 2013|By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times
  • Mike Fricano, one of the editors of L.A. Youth, shows old copies of the student newspaper, which after a 25-year run has published its last issue because of financial struggles.
Mike Fricano, one of the editors of L.A. Youth, shows old copies of the student… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

The last issue of L.A. Youth has gone to press. The newspaper produced by teenagers for teenagers survived for 25 years in city schools but now has reached the end of its run.

"It's over," said Donna Myrow, L.A. Youth's executive director, who started the newspaper with students working at her kitchen table.

Over the years, it grew to have an office of its own, where students would come to produce a newspaper that was distributed to the classrooms of more than 1,200 teachers across Los Angeles County. It had a circulation of 70,000 and an estimated readership of 400,000, Myrow said.

But L.A. Youth struggled financially in recent years, reeling from the loss of foundation grants and corporate donations that were a primary source of funding. After the paper almost ran out of money last year, narrowly surviving through last-minute gifts, its board of directors decided it had run out of options and voted earlier this month to cease publishing.

In a letter appearing in the January-February edition — which hits school hallways this week — Myrow wrote of "an undue amount of financial strain on the L.A. Youth family."

The newspaper — printed six times a year, with a budget of about $500,000 — featured first-person accounts by young people writing about themselves, their culture and their community.

Student writers explored such subjects as life as an undocumented immigrant, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and school budget cuts. They offered lighter fare too, including music reviews and taste tests of school lunch options. Drawing contributors from a range of backgrounds — public and private schools, urban areas and suburbs — the paper reflected the diversity of Los Angeles, Myrow said.

"We put the emphasis on personal journalism, meaning lots of stories starting with the word 'I,'" Myrow wrote in the letter. "We filled our pages with pieces that were heartbreaking or uplifting or funny, but always painfully honest."

The staff included two editors — Mike Fricano and Amanda Riddle — who worked closely with student writers, helping them conceive ideas at Saturday editorial meetings and then coaching them on the nuts and bolts of crafting a story.

"No one's going to be carrying on the work we did," Myrow said.

The final printing was meant to be a 25th anniversary issue with testaments from contributors aimed at inspiring the student writers they thought would follow them. Instead, as a finale, the messages read like eulogies.

I learned to believe in myself, to not necessarily take no for an answer, and to keep questioning the status quo. When I interviewed people, they treated me like a grown-up. It was different than how I was used to being treated by school authorities.

I was basically invisible in high school, but after my stories people noticed me .... I'm not as shy or intimidated as I was before.

I'm glad L.A. Youth told me not to shut up.

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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