Welcome to cub web publishing 101, the course for literary teens who go one further than Facebook to flex their writing muscles via blogs devoted to pop culture, fashion and eco activism. Green teen blogging is the new black. But just like the sport of crew, it takes time away from homework. You have to want to get your strokes from more than a bunch of A’s on a card. Meet a few of the new breed.
While most high school freshman call it a day after trudging through the mixed cauldron of Macbeth, ancient Rome and conjugating Spanish verbs, It’s Getting Hot in Here contributor Shadia Fayne Wood blogs about climate justice. At fifteen, she joined the World Summit on Sustainable Development – joining efforts to create the Official Youth Energy Policy Statement. She now helps coordinate a global youth journalism network, Project Survival Media and while keeping a personalblog and pursuing a freelance photography sideline.
At Teens Turning Green, founded in Marin County, CA., concerned teens from around the globe blog to further the goal of eliminating toxic chemicals from individual lives. Part of the joy is using the art of writing to effect change.
Its co-founder, Erin Schrode, got her start as a “sustainability prodigy” at the website and it led to awards, testimony before lawmakers and paid writing gigs by the time she was sixteen. Now, at nineteen, she is a guest blogger on Dr. Greene and other sites, and has a healthy TTG cosmetic line promoted by Whole Foods.
“They become experts and have something to share, and that is why they are blogging and articulating their perspectives,” says Judi Shill, Shrode’s mom and co-founder of the site. Shill finds blogging isn’t always an entree into journalism but is a sign of the times of how teens today communicate. Still, she admits some of the writing is “extraordinary” – and you can tell who is taking it further.
Taking it further might require the kind of chutzpah displayed by freelance teen reporter, Daniel Wetter, a member of the Scholastic Press Corps who often reports on eco issues. The upstart also has a passion for sports and covered the winter Olympics at fourteen, despite not having proper credentials. That’s the makings of a network sports writer – no shrinking violet in the locker room! “Every day has a new story to cover which is why I love journalism,” he says, and proves it by seeking out stories in his Sacramento community and working for his school paper, The Growler.
And then, in a league of her own, is fashion force Tavi Gevinson. The 14-year-old haute couture devotee, who also covers second hand shopping, has been writing the consumption blog, Style Rookie, since she was eleven. Next stop, a collaboration with Sassy creator Jane Pratt to produce a new teen publication for what Gevinson calls “wallflowery teenage girls.” A profile on the suburban Chicagoan in The New Yorker, points out bloggers have only recently become important in the world of fashion (our own Amy DuFault has the green niche covered), and that Tavi at fourteen is already an old pro who adeptly navigates her away around the backstage of shows, as well as on the web.
“In seventh grade, I’d come home from school and take an outfit picture, post it, write a little bit about it, and write a little bit about the day,” Tavi told the magazine. “Now, I want to write more article-y things.”
Gevinson is able to crossover from silly to serious because luminaries such as Karl Lagerfeld believe the idiosyncratic, four-foot-ten chronicler has something to say, her fresh eye not “ruined by zillions of bad collections.”
Fresh perspective is nurtured at enrichment workshops for kid writers, such as ones held at 826 Valencia, founded by author Dave Eggers and educator, Ninive Calegari. Stanford University’s EPGY (Education Program for Gifted Youth) urges creative wordsmiths to leap into fountains on the Stanford campus and leave anonymous poems on random bikes. Lekha School of Writing in San Jose, CA., circumvents the red tape of publishing houses with an adjunct service of publishing works completed by its best students. Some make it into bookstores before the kid has a driver’s license.
Meanwhile, savvy school teachers also play a vital role in prompting talented writers to journey beyond the classroom to reach a wider audience, even if it means a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.
“If students write for an audience of one teacher, they often don’t feel motivated,” says Paul Totah, educator and Director of Communications at Saint Ignatius college Preparatory in San Francisco. “Real world publishing is the best way to inspire good writing.”
Totah, like many of the most insightful instructors, is a former writer who has been in the trenches.
“Whenever I applied for a job as a writer, no one cared what college I went to or what grades or SAT scores I received,” shares Totah. “They looked at my writing portfolio and hired me because of the quality of the writing. Students know they are judged by how well they write anything, from emails to memos to sticky notes, and that concise, powerful prose will serve them in whatever they pursue.”
Edgy and current prose also serves them when selling “article-y things”, catching the eyes of avid Tweeters. But beware of early burn out. It’s a tempting, yet tangled, word wide web we weave, a seemingly endless one at that. The advantage of publishing early comes with a requisite of restraint. Otherwise, prodigies like the Tavi Gevinsons of the world could slide dangerously into child star Lindsay Lohan territory, and risk being washed up before experience and wisdom takes their art to new heights.