BOSTON (WOMENSENEWS)–More than a dozen teen-agers scuttle about the massive conference room, preparing for their next big job. Although their school day is long over, the young women pore through poems, edit piles of essays and take turns using the handful of computers scattered throughout the office.
Teen Voices magazine is the creation of publisher Alison Amoroso, a former therapist for sex abuse victims, but it is clear who the publication actually belongs to.
Written by and for teen-age girls, Teen Voices is a highly unusual quarterly nonprofit magazine with a national readership of 75,000. Created in 1990, Teen Voices provides Amoroso and her all-female staff of 13 adults a pathway to work directly with up to 100 “high-risk” inner-city girls in and around Boston each year. In addition to lessons in writing, editing, research and leadership, Amoroso and Co. conduct weekly “life-skill” workshops that address sexual harassment, money management and sexually transmitted diseases.
Ninety-five percent of the editors are African-American, Asian or Latina, 90 percent live below the poverty line, and nearly 60 percent have learning or behavioral disabilities, says Amoroso, editor in chief of the magazine.
“What’s great is that we get to change how society views girls,” says Amoroso, 36, “and how girls view society, through what goes into the magazine.”
Sarah Calvello, a junior at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, has had two poems published in the magazine and the 16-year-old says she now wants to write for a living.
“In Teen Voices, you can say anything . . . speak out and be heard,” Calvello says.
Learning the Ropes of the Journalism World
The Boston-based teen editors, who receive a monthly stipend of $70 for a minimum of six hours of work each week, create editorial packages from the more than 2,000 articles, poems and drawings that are submitted each year. Only writers age 18 and under are eligible to have their work published in Teen Voices and submissions are sent by mail or through the organization’s Website. Most submissions come from high school classes and loyal readers of the magazine, Amoroso says.
Once a submission is selected for publication, staff and volunteer “mentors” then work with the teen editors to expand upon the editorial concept. After researching the topic online, the editors write an introduction to the submitted piece, come up with as many as three related sidebars or quizzes and seek out photos or drawings that complete the editorial package.
The teen staff gain journalism skills, while Teen Voices’ readers receive a magazine that deals with serious societal issues–minus the celebrity profiles, fashion advice and dating tips common to most teen publications.
Recent Teen Voices articles have included “Six Ways You Can Shut Out School Violence,” “Being Adopted By My Family,” and “Eyes Wide Open . . . The Pressures East Asian Teen Women Face to Alter Their Looks Through Plastic Surgery.” And with the tagline “Because you’re more than just a pretty face,” every cover features a racial mix of everyday girls.
“Teen Voices is built on a model that’s about empowering women,” says Ellyn Ruthstrom, 42, the magazine’s managing editor. “Their work projects positive images of teens.”
Few Ads, Fewer Abs, More Commitment
Unlike its notable–and flashier–magazine counterparts, Teen Voices generates very little in advertising revenue. With a per-run circulation of 25,000, and editorial content that intentionally de-emphasizes external beauty, Teen Voices earned just $58,000 in advertising last year. Yearly subscriptions are sold for $19.99, and individual copies of the magazine are available on newsstands nationwide. The company is largely dependent upon foundation grants and individual donations to operate.
“They could earn quite a bit of money if they took ads from diet products, but they won’t because that’s not part of their mission,” says Amy Segal Shorey, a partner with Grants Management Associates, a Boston-based philanthropic consulting firm that has helped Teen Voices win a handful of grants over the years. “They’re very consciously trying to debunk some of the media images of women.”
Magazines Give Female Teens a Presence
Teen Voices is unique in its use of journalism to mentor inner-city girls, yet it is not alone in the world of teen-written publishing. In Duluth, Minn., New Moon the Magazine For Girls and Their Dreams has been operating since 1992 and has a circulation of 30,000. New Moon is written by female pre-teens and teens for female teens, although about one-fourth of its content is written by adults. Like Teen Voices, readers are the source of many of the magazines’ articles.
“Girls seem to lose their voices when they hit junior high,” says Deb Mylin, 30, managing editor of New Moon, which is guided by a 15-member editorial board, with ages ranging from 8 to 14. “Here, they’re being listened to. We take very seriously what they say and we work with them as peers. They have a real sense of ownership of the product.”
New Moon is a for-profit venture and has been in the black the last several years, says its assistant publisher, Linda Estel, even though the magazine does not accept ads. Its primary source of revenue is subscriptions, $29 for six issues a year, with some sales from its on-line catalogue adding to the bottom line.
New Moon’s young editorial board members are not paid for their labor, Estel says, because of the state’s child labor laws, but they often receive a savings bond as a gift at the end of the year. However, the writers–adults and teens–are paid, 6-cents-a-word.
But it is not the money that Shakeyah Scroggins, 13, says she likes most about her job at Teen Voices. Inside the company’s office, she can freely express herself about issues that are too often ignored by the larger media. In her time as a teen editor, Scroggins has learned and written about eating disorders, surviving sexual assaults and the difficulties of teen motherhood. Those are topics you just can’t discuss, she says, when boys are hanging around.
“I’m used to being around a lot of women,” says Scroggins, who lives with her mother and two sisters in Dorchester, Mass. “It’s nice being around other girls who can relate to what’s going on with you . . . It’s like a family. If there were boys here, I think I’d be shy and not do as much.”
Therein lays the foundation upon which Teen Voices was built and continues to grow.
“It’s about them finding their voices and being confident enough to have a voice,” Ruthstrom says. “We want these girls to feel that they are important enough to be heard . . . because they are.”
Jeff Lemberg is a freelance writer and graduate student at Boston University.
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