There’s no shortage of news stories about young people: what’s important to them, the problems they face, how they see the world. There is a shortage, however, of young journalists telling these stories.
Canadian magazine The Walrus tried to remedy this shortage with its most recent digital series “Teen Walrus: Young People on What Matters Now.” The series launched in July with five features that were pitched, written, and illustrated by youth ages 13 through 19. The stories focus on a variety of topics that resonate with today’s teens, from cancel culture to lowering the voting age to lab-grown meat. Five more stories are set to be published in September, with the possibility of more to come.
“A lot of publications are happy to quote young people, but it still sometimes feels like they’re talking down to them,” said Daniel Viola, a senior editor at The Walrus and the editor of the Teen Walrus series. “Giving them space to develop these pointed essays about problems that they see in the world, and what they see as solutions — that’s just not something we get to see too much of.”
Even when young voices are heard, Viola said it’s often “one teen who speaks for all teens.” Instead, Teen Walrus offers a variety of youth perspectives. “Sometimes their opinions differ,” he said. “That’s what’s exciting to us — not the quote-unquote youth perspective.”
The idea for Teen Walrus had been floating around at The Walrus since 2018, when the magazine launched a digital series focused on youth and the Canadian sex education system. “It was all written by adults, but was very focused on young people’s stories,” Viola said. “Rather than just writing about young people and the issues that are important to them, we thought it would be interesting to give young people the space to shape their own stories.”
Viola noted some recurring themes across the hundreds of pitches received, with social media and the environment particularly top-of-mind. “Even stories that weren’t [specifically] about the environment, they still worked it in,” he said. “How do we change how we live? Which aspects of our society and day-to-day life aren’t quite working?” By centring teen voices, The Walrus makes space for stories that young readers are genuinely invested in, including those about sustainability, climate justice, community, and care. “It’s made us really excited about the future of journalism,” Viola said.
Going into the project, The Walrus’s editorial team knew that curating a digital series entirely for and by teens would require some extra work. “We can’t just do the normal thing, where we go to our usual writers,” said Viola. Instead, the team created a landing page explaining how to craft a pitch and what The Walrus was looking for in a story. After selecting which pitches to proceed with, the team paired each writer with an editor who supported them through several successive drafts of their story. Likewise, the art team worked with the selected youth artists, guiding them through the process of producing professional illustrations.
“It was very similar to how our process usually works, just a bit more in-depth,” Viola said. “These young writers … they haven’t gone to journalism school, so it’s [a matter of] trying to quickly explain what that process looks like.” The editors needed to be open to going through some journalism basics with the writers: how to navigate an interview, find good sources, or conduct high-quality research. “They want to learn about interviewing, they want to see how you structure a story,” Viola said. “It’s not a question of expecting less just because they’re new writers — it’s asking, how do we bring them up to the level of what we’re doing at the publication already?”
Viola offered some advice for other media outlets looking to publish teen voices. “The main thing is, you have to meet these writers where they’re at,” he said. For him, it was essential to be flexible with deadlines. “These are students who are in school — they have exams, they have their own schedules, so we have to work around that a bit more. Journalists who’ve been in the business for 20 years have a different understanding of deadlines than a 16-year-old.” In the future, Viola said he’d consider asking for a completed first draft up front, rather than just a pitch. “It’s been a learning process for us too.”
Viola looks forward to seeing more from these writers and anticipates that many of them will go on to lead successful journalism careers. “We hope to see these names come up again and again, in the years to come,” he said.
Teen Walrus is not the only resource for youth journalists, as Viola pointed out that other publications also work with teen writers, including Shameless magazine. “We hope that the [youth] writers we work with now feel more confident and start pitching these other publications too,” he said. “There’s an ecosystem that’s out there for young people who are interested in journalism.”