YOUTH MAGAZINES: Peer publishing

By PJ WHITE

| 12 February 2003

Unlike shoestring efforts in the past, magazines by young people for young people are becoming professional. PJ White finds out what young people get out of the publishing process.

Magazines by young people for young people have many intriguing titles: Rant, React, The Linc, Exposure, Between the Lines, Vo!ce 24-7.

But what exactly are they all about?

Flicking through the content reveals articles on pregnancy and video game reviews, jokes and quizzes, sexually transmitted diseases, disability or bullying. Plus features on skateboards or asylum seekers, guides to protesting and campaigning, spotlights on poverty, race and homophobia.

Or updates on Connexions, food, sport, interviews with local MPs, gig lists, low-downs on mobiles, fox hunting or self-harming.

But content is not what these titles are really about. They are about learning and exploration, voices heard, ownership of media and young people listening and speaking to each other in a non-sensational, non-exploitative way.

The magazines are of strikingly high quality and seem to be here to stay.

Secure local authority funding means they can survive changes in young people and staff. This permanence contrasts with the previous shoestring-style of operations.

Lisa Clark of Portsmouth's Rant magazine says: "You can see people's confidence growing." She enthuses about young people interviewing individuals they would never normally meet and returning brimming with information after researching an article.

Picture 16-year-old Miranda Taylor in the press box at Wigan Athletic football club, the only woman among the sports hacks. She's one of seven or eight regulars and up to 20 occasionals who meet on alternate Monday nights to produce The Linc, a tabloid newspaper distributed to more than 30,000 young people in Wigan and Leigh, Lancashire.

Or imagine the response when the head of corporate affairs at Nestle wrote objecting to an article on promoting baby milk in a small Somerset-based youth magazine, Vo!ce 24-7.

Success brings problems: there is a waiting list of people wanting to write for Rant. Then there are the boundaries. A series on teenage pregnancy in one magazine ended with an article on abortion. They knew at least one local school that would not distribute the edition, or possibly any other, if it went in. It went in. Swear words are a predictable and thorny problem. And councillors can be jumpy about perceived political imbalance.

But tackling these issues in partnership with young people is part of the challenge. Andy Koumi, manager of Haringey's Exposure magazine, lists others: deadlines, teamwork, professionalism, respecting clients and funders.

"The process is developing young people," he says, "but it's the product that makes the process relevant."

Rant is on its 27th edition, fully funded by Portsmouth Council. It began as an urban survival guide for the young. Initially adult-led, the first issue was written by a local journalist and then handed over to young people.

"With hindsight, this was the wrong way round," says Clark, who was one of the first young people on the magazine. Now 24, she has worked as youth communications coordinator for two years. She insists that anyone starting now should first research the readership, consult with young people and involve them from the beginning.

Darren Kendall, coordinator of Vo!ce 24-7, advises: "Empower young people. They won't let you down."

Vo!ce 24-7 was led by young people from the start, the idea coming out of two youth arts forums in Taunton Deane three years ago. It is written by and for 11 to 18-year-olds. It is published termly and costs about 2,000 to print 10,000 copies. Design costs 1,300 an issue, based on 85 hours, which includes meetings and workshops.

"The council pays for printing," says Kendall. "We also get money from the youth service and from Connexions."

The biggest cost of Wigan's The Linc is postage, as it is mailed to more than 26,000 young people. Another 9,000 copies are distributed to youth projects, schools, colleges, libraries and surgeries. Production costs are low because of partnership deals with local newspapers. The Standish Courier and Wigan Council's Services for Young People publish it.

React is editorially controlled by Save the Children. Young people investigate stories set by the charity's priorities. But that does not mean it is just Save the Children policy statements, says Louise Smith, youth education officer. She thinks of it as "a space in which the young people have explored issues the charity works on".

When Save the Children UK tried to publish React nationally, logistics proved difficult. The second issue took a year to produce and cost 13,000, joint-funded by the Department for Education and Skills and the charity's education budget.

Fifteen young people, from Newcastle to Plymouth, took part through meetings, a summer residential, email and an evaluation meeting.

Between the Lines, the magazine launched in 1995 by Catholic aid agency Cafod, is also nationally produced. Various methods, including guest editing, have been tried. Like React, Between the Lines is issue-based, with content steered by the charity. But this is part of the deal when young people sign up.

Abdul Rahim Sattar, now 19, worked on React's first edition as a 16-year-old. He went on to help make a series of award-winning radio programmes for BBC Leicester on Myths about Muslims. But offering a training ground for journalists is not a primary aim.

"I'd feel we'd failed if all we were doing was preparing young people for the media," says Exposure's Koumi.

He prefers to empower young people to think about their role in the community: "If they leave here inspired to help other young people, that is better than being a journalist for Maxim."

Check out youth magazines online: www.tauntondeane.gov.uk/voice www.rantonline.co.uk www.exposure.org.uk www.cafod.org.uk/fasttrack/betweenthelines www.savethechildren.org.uk/rightonline/react.html

PUBLISHING DO'S AND DON'TS

- Plan every aspect of the magazine with young people: they must own it from the start.

- Make sure the final product is good quality, well designed, well printed and error-free. Young people are very media aware and will not be impressed with an amateurish look.

- Be straight about editorial control. It is unlikely that young people will have total freedom. Avoid misunderstandings by being clear in the first place.

- Do not make assumptions about what interests young people. Adults might think substance misuse is a cool issue but young people may be bored rigid by yet another article on drugs.

- Set realistic schedules. Communicating, checking back and negotiating content takes time. But if you cut corners, it will cease to be the young people's magazine.

CASE STUDY

Exposure thrives on its independence

Founded in 1995, Exposure is at the cutting edge of publishing by young people for young people. Based in Haringey, north London, the magazine is envied for its independence of direct local council control.

Volunteers aged eight to 21 submit articles, reviews, poetry, photographs and designs. Its catch-line is 'Preparing young people for the world that should be'.

Exposure was initially a limited company, later gaining charitable status.

To satisfy charity commissioners, at least two-thirds of the content has a charitable purpose. Young people sign Exposure's constitution and the north London Connexions charter. The charter details rights and responsibilities; the constitution sets out aims.

Copies are distributed to secondary schools, colleges, youth clubs, Connexions offices, public buildings, libraries, sports clubs and leisure centres.

Independence means Exposure can be adventurous. One cover carried a condom and the words 'Come inside'. Some schools do not take the magazine.

Exposure manager Andy Koumi says: "The philosophy is that if we are not upsetting teachers or people in authority sometimes, we are not doing our job properly."

Exposure gets money from Connexions, the Children's Fund and the Department for Education and Skills. It has received National Lottery money and various grants. As a trading company, it sells advertising, design and print services, and produces posters and leaflets.

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