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READING AND WRITING

Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Pass the Word
Perfect World: An Authentic Voice for Young People
By Eileen Canning Campbell

On the day Perfect World, the Anchorage Daily News' weekly youth section, first appeared, an introduction by Editor Kent Pollock ran on the front page of the section. "The page is not your typical youth page," he wrote. "It is opinionated, pointed and somewhat sassy. We think it is very special, and we hope you agree."
Kathleen McCoy introduces Perfect World staff members as they receive the NEA School Bell Award. From left, standing, Elliot Bundy, Bridget O'Connell, Forrest Eastham and Peter Feldman.

According to Kathleen McCoy, Anchorage Daily features editor, most readers do agree; and the response to Perfect World has been extremely positive. Adult readers have praised the PW staff for vivid writing that helps them remember what it was like to be young, and to understand what life is like for young people today. PW writers have been approached by adults, such as school counselors, who want their viewpoint; they have won awards, and have been recognized formally in the Alaska State Legislature.

The awards and praise are nice, McCoy admits, but the most important thing to the kids on the PW staff is not that people like what they write, but that they are reading what they write.

"The mission of Perfect World is to give them a voice," she says. "It gives them a place to say what they think of their community and the education they are receiving. The writing ranges from silly to really serious; they have some real frustrations."

One of these frustrations, for example, is society's ambivalence about alcohol, and the inconsistent messages kids receive. When the PW staff did a whole issue about partying and alcohol, McCoy says, one kid wrote about the confusion kids feel when alcohol is treated differently by different adults.

"They were able to find the "nut", the essence of the problem -- that our culture doesn't know how to treat alcohol -- and it had an authenticity to it," she says.

That authenticity, McCoy believes, is the thing that makes the page unique; and part of its authenticity is in its roughness. The PW staff writers are not necessarily chosen for their writing experience. The most important thing is a unique voice and unique interests.

"Some of the PW writers have written for school newspapers, some have a sense of themselves as writers," McCoy says. "Maybe they have been told by teachers that they have a talent, and they should use it. But not all of them have ink in their blood. Many of them are here because it is fun...There are papers in other cities that have 40-year-old journalists writing their Youth Section. They may be more polished, but that isn't the goal here."

Even if members did not join the PW staff with dreams of becoming professional writers, they do learn a lot about writing.

McCoy is an enthusiastic mentor who has won an array of national awards for her writing. She was part of the team that earned the Anchorage Daily News a Pulitzer Prize in 1989. With McCoy's guidance the PW staff learns to provide sources and different points of view, and how to find the right "tone" for a piece. They are also learning that the "idea generating phase" is the critical phase of a story. But the most important thing they learn, McCoy says, is that writing is a great way to figure out what they think about things.

"They are thinking about life out loud, and writing helps them do this...writing is a way to find out about themselves and how they are rooted in the world," she says. "My wish for Perfect World now is to bring in more kids from many different backgrounds -- cultural and socioeconomic -- to speak their own truth, a truth that may be different from what is here."

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