In Boston, a Newspaper for Teens, by Teens

By: Brian Orloff

Some newspapers court young readers and writers with a single teen-oriented page, but The Boston Globe has taken things a step further with T.i.P. (or Boston Teens in Print), an actual teen-produced tabloid that goes out to high school students throughout Boston.

The venture, launched last May, was created through a partnership with WriteBoston, a writing-improvement program in Boston’s public high schools, and The Boston Globe Foundation. Now 15 high school students from around the city work with a small staff of adult editors to write, report, and design the quarterly publication.

“Our goals line up well with the Globe Foundation’s goals of creating the next generation of readers and writers,” said WriteBoston’s director, Betty Southwick.

Recruitment was easy, Southwick said. WriteBoston was already familiar with the school system and issued surveys to students to gauge their journalism interests. Potential writers were encouraged to stay in touch, and the foundation whittled the applicants down to the handful of students now on staff.

“We gave [the Globe Foundation] the results of a survey which basically said, ‘Yes, we read newspapers but we would be more inclined to read them if they were about us and by us,'” Southwick said.

T.i.P. creators hope the publication will not just reflect teenage voices, but also connect them to one another.

“At first we thought we would help individual schools with their newspapers, then we realized not many of them have the resources to put out their own publication,” said Leah Bailey, director of the Boston Globe Foundation. “And then when they do, they’re only talking to their own classmates. So we said, ‘How about giving them a way to talk to each other across the city, share information with all high school students in the city?'”

For editors, education and communication remain essential. Producing the publication is meant to be like an intensive journalism camp, or, essentially, fast-paced journalism school on-the-go.

“We’re teachers first and journalists second,” said Marie C. Franklin, the editor of T.i.P. (who is also the Globe’s youth editor). “For the last issue, when I finished doing my editing, I invited three of the teens to sit down with me. … That particular afternoon, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is like being in the classroom again.'”

While adult staff steer students toward certain stories, students generate the majority of their story ideas. Laurys Abreu, 15, a sophomore, wrote a story about teenage pregnancy in the latest issue. Abreu said the experience taught her a lot about journalistic ethics and reporting on sensitive issues.

“I had a lot of issues about that because right after I wrote the article, the teen mom came to me and started crying because she didn’t like it,” Abreu said. “I was real proud of it, but to come back and have the girl say she didn’t like it … I thought to myself that my article was wrong.

“What I learned was that … I need to make more clear to young teenagers about a sensitive story that they are going to be published in the newspaper and anybody can read that,” she said.

The latest issue, published at the end of January, conveyed concerns facing the typical high school student — from worries about college admission to weighing in on the war in Iraq. There’s a double-truck spread called “Making It Into College” which published excerpts of winning college application essays; the college-theme is continued with stories about changes to the SAT and sidebars with tips from top university deans.

And students are very topically engaged on the opinion page, which included a feature called “Letters to George W. From Tipped-Off Teens.” The page offers seven open letters to the president expressing grievances and concerns with his policies. “Now that you are back in office, I would like to know what is going to happen with Iraq?,” wrote senior editor Daniela Cako. “We, the young people of America, want to know what you have planned out for the next four years of our lives,” she continues.

Students also take on leadership positions. While adults such as Franklin do the bulk of the editing, they maintain the students’ tone and help them to nurture and develop their writerly voices.

“The philosophy behind getting the teens as involved is that it makes it a much more authentic publication,” Franklin says. “The voice, it’s a teen voice, and I think that’s what makes it so different.”

“Students at that age have many different reasons for wanting to be part of something like this,” Bailey said, echoing the sentiment. “[They] just really enjoy the camaraderie and adults who respect them and listen to them and have high expectations for them . . . I think they love having a voice.”

Honing that voice has inspired students to pursue careers in journalism, they say.

Phil Donahue, 16, a sophomore, is an associate editor and senior writer. “[A journalism career] always been in my top three before I started this but when I realized I could do it well and people liked what I did, I decided this is probably what I want to do,” Donahue said. “I don’t know if it’s for newspapers but I definitely know I want to do something with journalism or reporting.”

Abreu says her dream career has always been in medicine, but working for T.i.P. has boosted her confidence as a writer. “I feel as though I learn how to communicate with people I don’t even know,” she says. “I know how to walk down the street proud to say I’m a teen reporter.”

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