Thursday, October 29, 2009

Courageous Women Journalists

Last night the International Women’s Media Foundation held its annual dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It’s quite a gala, celebrity journalists from TV, Internet and print. Major L.A. philanthropists, j-school students, community leaders and other guests schmoozed re the demise of American media institutions.

The organization honored four women journalists who have courageously reported on oppressive political leaders, political upheaval, abuse of women and other human rights issues in their countries. The reporters from Belarus and Cameroon were arrested for writing unflattering stories about the government. Armed soldiers destroyed their equipment and production studios and dragged them from their homes. The plea from the honorees was unanimous – American media must keep its eye on the globe not just when there’s a coup or assassination of a political leader. The Iranian journalist could not attend the event as she was recently released from jail and waiting for her husband to be released. The Israeli reporter travels in dangerous territory, from Jerusalem to Gaza and the West Bank, decades of reporting both sides -- the Palestinians and the Israelis.

We hear little news about Belarus and Cameroon. The networks, cable stations, newspapers and radio send their correspondents to “hot spots,” where there’s gunfire, suicide bombers and kidnappings. Senior executives at media companies claim budget constraints prevent them from posting reporters in less volatile places. The “bean counters” control the flow of information to Americans and will continue to reduce the coverage of global events. No wonder we’re all turning to the Internet for timely information.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cops and Teens: Can We Talk?

Los Angeles will have a new police chief this week. Chief Bratton is leaving Los Angeles to pursue other opportunities. Tensions between teenagers and cops are a familiar story. Teens are highly critical of police practices, from curfew enforcement to traffic stops and racial profiling. We’ve hosted sit-downs between teens and LAPD and teens and the Sheriff’s Dept. Transcripts from the sessions were published in L.A. Youth and posted on our website.

The conversations don’t magically bridge the gap between our teen writers and readers but we like to think they at least humanize the participants on both sides. Several years ago L.A. Youth writer Richard Kwon interviewed then-Police Chief Bernard Parks. The conversation turned from teens’ driving habits to a personal tragedy that the chief had experienced. His 20-year-old granddaughter, Lori, had been the victim of a homicide. Richard reflected on their discourse:

I thought police officers pretended to be tough guys, but he was really honest with his answers. He’s still in pain about her death and haunted by it. His face showed signs of weariness but he was still smiling in the end. And so was I.

We tried contacting Chief Bratton but he never responded to our request for an interview. Perhaps the next chief will reach out to teens and dialogue with us.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Life is a constant challenge.

Deal or No Deal is a challenge for TV contestants to guess how much money is in a box. Last year’s Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire was a million dollar challenge to a young man to guess the right answer on a popular TV show in order to leave his impoverished life in the slums of India.

L.A. Youth is invited to apply for a challenge grant funded by three major foundations. We have to raise money from new contributors, then the foundations will match it between 100 and 200 percent. Board members and I chatted about the invitation this morning after a discussion re the obstacles and opportunities in a downturn economy. They accepted the challenge. We’re applying for the grant.

Every day there’s a different challenge managing the administrative and programmatic tasks of a non-profit organization. Yesterday I learned that one of our long-time donors has ended their support for youth media groups. The challenge is to find another foundation to take their place.

Our teen writers in the foster care system face dire challenges when they emancipate at 18. High school seniors face the challenge of securing college loans and scholarships. Parents on the verge of home foreclosure are challenged with finding shelter for the family and fear of becoming homeless.

I take the challenges one at a time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Captive Voices

Jack Nelson was known as a hard driving, dedicated reporter and bureau chief in the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times. To me, he led the seminal work that brought the problems of the high school press to the fore when few were paying attention. Captive Voices was published in 1974 by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation established to continue the pursuit of societal change that marked Kennedy’s life.

In 1973 Senator Edward Kennedy announced the plans of the foundation and created a commission to study the potential of high school journalism in America. The commission focused on censorship of the high school press, lack of participation of minority students on high school press staffs and other issues. Hearings were held across the country and Jack studied 1,725 pages of hearing testimony to write the final report that became Captive Voices.

That report led to the creation of the Student Press Law Center and New Expression, an independent teen-written newspaper in Chicago. Jack was pleased when I launched L.A. Youth in 1988 and over the years he continued to be supportive of our newspaper and the potential of high school journalism in America.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


LAUSD school administrators and Superintendent Ramon Cortines ran around the city yesterday knocking on doors looking for students. A great publicity stunt acting like they’re interested in finding drop-outs and truants. Of course, it’s that time of year – they count heads and send the numbers to Sacramento and every body they lure back to school gives the district more money. Now, if only they were concerned the rest of the year.

My friend Roshawn published her story in January-February 2006 with a narrative so horrifying of her childhood growing up in shelters and cheap hotels Skid Row I still cry every time I read it. One of the saddest chapters in her life occurred in 2003. She made the long trip from Skid Row to Reseda High School in the San Fernando Valley for two years, until the fall 2003 bus strike. There was no public transportation across the city. She was out of school for six weeks and fell so far behind with her schoolwork that she was forced to drop out.

No one called from the Los Angeles Unified School District or tried to locate her. LAUSD officials owe Roshawn an apology.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Presses Rolled Today

The Oct. issue was printed this morning at the L.A. Times plant. We always have to wait a few days before we get our hands on a copy. We’re urging mainstream and alternative media to take a close look at high school drop-out statistics and challenge administrators to respond to this crisis in public education. Editor Mike Fricano will post articles on Tuesday.

We held a staff development meeting today which gave everyone an opportunity to discuss his/her job description. I asked staff to highlight every new task or challenge in the past year so that I can assess their responsibilities. In a perfect world with no money worries, I could hire two more staff. In the meantime, we have excellent consultants to help with art direction, strategic communications and financial management.

Last week we sent an appeal letter to long-time donors and to parents of teens who benefit from our training programs. The funds are “trickling” in, not as many contributors as I hoped for.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Dow and Donors

The Dow hit 10,000 today. I wonder if that will have a positive impact on donors. Holiday season is looming close and people will make decisions re year-end giving. It’ll be interesting to see if Dec. 2009 donations will be an improvement over Dec. 2008.

In the meantime we move forward – last day to proof pages, change a headline and add or delete board members, volunteers, donors to the Oct. masthead.

We have visitors this week, two foundation trustees and staff dropping by to chat about our programs. I bought ginger snaps for this afternoon and fresh croissants and coffee for the trustees tomorrow morning. They can peek at the pages before we transmit them to the L.A. Times. I’m still filled with awe and pride when I look at the stories and artwork of every issue right before the presses roll.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Poor Public Education

Presses roll Saturday with our extraordinary cover story -- eighteen-year-old Patricia Chavarria shares her compelling journey, “My second chance at school.” She ditched, had a serious illness and lost hope of graduating until she enrolled at Cesar Chavez Continuation High School in Compton. L.A. Youth editor Mike Fricano met with Patricia and a group of students at the school to hear their personal experiences and what inspired them to graduate.

Overcrowded classes, thousands of displaced teachers, shortage of textbooks and supplies plus a staggering list of all the other ailments in California public schools doesn’t bode well for the future. Parents have every right to enroll their child in a Charter school or jump into the magnet school lottery. For those with funds to spare there are many private school choices or a neighborhood parochial school.

A study by Northeastern University in Boston recently reported that male high school dropouts were 47 times more likely than college graduates to be jailed.

Los Angeles County has one of the highest dropout rates in the country – more than 20 percent of students leave school before graduating.

I was a staunch believer in the public school tradition but I have my doubts they can prepare children for higher education and the job market.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Improve Quality of Life in South LA

Last Saturday was Newcomer’s Day, a morning orientation we host every six weeks for teens interested in joining the staff. Twenty-five youth showed up and the best news is more than half were boys! With a writing project we’re always 60-40 with females leading the number of bylines.

We’re making a major effort this school year to recruit young men of color. Their voices are not well represented in L.A. Youth. Tomorrow I’m attending a planning meeting at the South LA Building Healthy Communities coalition of agencies invited by The California Endowment to strategically plan goals for the next 10 years to improve employment, education, violence, health and other issues in their community. Several of the groups work with young people so I’ll have the opportunity to hand out copies of the paper and encourage them to partner with us.

This is my favorite part of the job – meet ‘n greet community organizers and listen to the buzz of ideas in other neighborhoods.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bringing our Programs to Youth Agencies

Good news today. The generosity of the Leonard Green Foundation and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors will enable us to expand the Oct. press run to 70,000. As I mentioned before, we were forced to make drastic cuts -- reducing the press run from 120,000 to 60,000 last month -- since we have to pay the L.A. Times for printing and delivery services. Parents of our teen staffers are sending donations so we hope to punch up the numbers to 100,000 by November.

I dropped by Homeboy Industries yesterday on my way to a meeting downtown. Young people hanging out in front, others doing homework or snacking in the café. I tried their crème brulee, absolutely delicious. I gave them a stack of newspapers and encouraged the program director to share it with staff and teens. He asked if we’d offer a weekly writing class in their new facility. That’s a possibility. They have financial woes like everyone else these days -- no new hires, program cuts.

Several youth organizations around town want us to bring our programs to them but we’re already stretched too thin. A kindly philanthropist could fill the request if we have the funds to hire a fourth editor.

Never hurts to dream big.