Ages 13 to 19 News Team Gives Teen Voice to Teen People

CaseStudy: Ages 13 to 19 News Team Gives Teen Voice to Teen People

Teens know what’s, like, totally kewl, and if you want the dudes to hang with you, you’d better not sound the way we just did. That kind of thinking led Teen People to form its News Team, a group of 35 teens, 13 to 20, who contribute articles to the magazine.

“When the concept of the magazine was being developed, [managing editor] Christina Ferrari knew that for it to succeed, the voice of teens had to be very real and not manufactured by adults,” says Amy Paulsen, executive editor. For example, she says, “We make a point never to use teen slang. We know our readers think it’s real stupid for adults to try to sound like teens.”

So in the February 1999 issue, the editors asked young journalists among their readers to apply, and send writing samples and a 75-word essay. The essay was to be written as if applicants were writing a profile for Teen People and they were the subject, says Paulsen.

The editors geared the timing of the choice of the team and its work to the school year. They’ve chosen this year’s 35-member team from just over a thousand entries, says Victoria Nam, editorial assistant and News Team coordinator, who worked on a similar program for the now-defunct Blue Jean magazine published in Rochester, N.Y. The new members are announced in the September issue, which hits the stands on Friday.

Selection Criteria

In the first year, “several hundred responded,” says Nam. Teen People editors sent biographical surveys to finalists to get a mix of age, ethnicity, geographic location and gender, finally narrowing the list to 35, most of whom have worked for their high school newspapers or contributed to their city papers.

Like the magazine readers, the news team is made up of more females than males, but the percentage isn’t the same. The readership split is 80/20. “With the News Team, we tried to make it more equitable,” says Paulsen. This year’s team is about 74% female.

Ethnic diversity also was important to the editors: Almost 43% of the team members are non-white. And, in addition to writing ability and experience, “my [selection] checklist included people involved in their communities and [those with] interesting talents,” says Nam.

Most of this year’s members – 28 of 35 – are ages 16 to 18. The rest of the members are divided evenly among the rest of the ages in the range.

How the Team Evolved

At the beginning of the News Team project, in March, 1998, “we weren’t exactly sure how to use the team.” What’s more, she says, “We didn’t realize how many great ideas they’d have and how much we’d use them,” says Paulsen.

If you follow Teen People’s lead in working with teens, it pays to remember this: Working with teens is rewarding, but it’s “also a full-time job,” says Paulsen. “You have to remember that they’re still teens.” That means they’re “inexperienced. They’re living at home and going to school, which of course” has to take priority over outside work.

Despite those realities, the editors haven’t had to pad deadlines, but sometimes they “pad” reporters. For example, for the April issue, Paulsen says her staff gave $100 each to four people to spend on hair and beauty products and report back on what they chose and why. “We might have assigned it to one extra team member” to ensure enough responses on time.

And, Paulsen says, “I wish some of my adult freelancers were as responsible as these teens.” Teens are being paid the same as adults – a dollar a word, says Nam.

More Teen Tips

The keys to success, Nam advises, is to love working with kids. It also helps if you have some mentoring experience. Treat them like professionals, never underestimate their intelligence, get them psyched, and involve them, she suggests.

The easiest way to know what’s on teens’ minds is to bring a core group into the office and establish a ongoing dialogue with them. “You can depend on kids to be frank and honest” especially if they’re involved in what you’re doing.

Team members are involved. Last year, the editors and partner Kaiser Family Foundation and Advocates for Youth sent one teen member – 18-year-old Melissa Hart – to Europe to report on European teen sexuality. The teen kept a daily journal, of which the magazine “published snippets,” says Nam.

For the first anniversary issue, team members also helped to choose and interview sources for an article titled “20 Teens Who’ve Changed the World.” Teens also have attended and reported on the Academy Awards, in addition to other projects. This year, the magazine will launch a monthly News Team editorial page feature in the October issue.

Instant Focus Group

Even before student reporters write a single word, Teen People is benefiting from their affiliation: “I took a tour of the offices and some woman wanted to get my opinions about what fragrances I like,” says Shawn Anderson, 17, a new member whom Nam recruited to apply when she found his writing on bolt.com. What did he tell her? “I like Claiborne Sport and Curve for Men,” he says.

Okay, we’ll play that game, too. What jeans does he wear? “I like Gap, Old Navy… wait, I’ll look in my closet… Timberland.”

(Teen People, Amy Paulsen, 212/522-8634; Victoria Nam, 212/522-1264)

COPYRIGHT 1999 Phillips Publishing International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group