Media Giants Launch Magazines For Schools

By Mark Walsh — September 15, 1999 6 min read
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For generations, American schoolchildren have kept up with current events with the help of such venerable classroom magazines as Junior Scholastic and My Weekly Reader.

Teen Newsweek
Teen Newsweek and The New York Times Upfront are two new titles that will be vying to provide news specially aimed at students.

But this fall, two new titles will be appearing on school desks, and each carries the nameplate of a leading news organization.

The New York Times Upfront, a joint venture between Scholastic Corp. and The New York Times, will be published biweekly and is aimed at the high school grades. Teen Newsweek, the product of Weekly Reader Corp. and Newsweek magazine, is a weekly publication for grades 6 through 9.

With these old and new publications, as well as classroom television shows such as Channel One and CNN Newsroom, there has never been more news and current-events information tailored especially for students.

“Now it isn’t a matter of finding it, it’s a matter of deciding what to use,” said Richard Theisen, the president of the National Council for the Social Studies and a high school teacher in Osseo, Minn.

Classroom media, he added, “provide a current perspective. They are able to respond to issues that are much more contemporary than any textbook.”

The market for classroom publications was shaken up a few years ago with the introduction of Time for Kids, created by the publisher of Time magazine.

At least one publishing executive acknowledged that the debut of Time for Kids--which was much splashier and more visually appealing than its competitors--jarred the older classroom publishers out of their complacency.

“For years, Scholastic and Weekly Reader really had the country to themselves,” said Eric Oatman, the editorial director at Weekly Reader Corp., based in Stamford, Conn. “Time for Kids forced us to be better. It’s been better for the whole industry.”

Other classroom news publications are also available. The Wall Street Journal has had a classroom edition for several years. NewsCurrents, a weekly discussion guide for teachers published by Knowledge Unlimited Inc. of Madison, Wis., has been around for almost half a century. And react, a youth-oriented title from the publisher of Parade magazine, is distributed both in classrooms and as a newspaper supplement.

‘A Terrific Marriage’

Scholastic first published a high school news magazine in the 1920s. Company executives were elated this past summer when astronaut Eileen M. Collins, the first female commander of a U.S. space mission, mentioned in interviews that her interest in the space program was motivated in part by reading Junior Scholastic as a child.

Scholastic has some 35 classroom magazines, with a total paid circulation of 8 million. They include Scholastic News for the early elementary grades; Junior Scholastic, for the middle grades; and a variety of more specialized titles, such as Scholastic Math and Literary Cavalcade.

The New York Times Upfront came about as a result of Scholastic’s desire to upgrade its high school publication, Scholastic Update, and the newspaper’s desire to create more of a name-brand presence among students.

“It looked like we could have a terrific marriage,” said Hugh Roome, the executive vice president for consumer marketing at Scholastic.

The first issue for this fall, dated Sept. 6, featured a cover story about “The Clampdown on Teen Rights” in the wake of the shootings last spring at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo.

It also has a package examining world hot spots such as Kosovo, Rwanda, and Haiti, written by the newspaper’s European diplomatic correspondent, Craig R. Whitney.

The magazine also makes use of the Times’ archives for a history lesson about the World War II war-crimes trials in Nuremberg, Germany.

The approach of the publication is to rewrite or repackage certain reports of the newspaper, as well as tailor some original editorial material, for “smart kids,” said Allan M. Siegal, an assistant managing editor of The New York Times who oversees the paper’s editorial contributions to Upfront.

“Our working phrase is that smart is in,” he added. “We think the greatest potential is to actually have our correspondents do their reporting for Upfront, or reorient some of their [newspaper] stories for the magazine. Not everyone is equally enthusiastic about it. But some of our younger correspondents are.”

Upfront has an initial circulation of 300,000 copies.

Mr. Siegal acknowledged that the newspaper’s long-term goal was to create future subscribers.

“Our interest is unabashedly to make loyal readers of The New York Times out of the students who start off with Upfront,” Mr. Siegal said.

Teen Newsstand

Magazine publishers have likewise been extending their “brands” to new youth versions. Teen People, a youth version of Time Inc.'s People magazine, has been highly successful and is sparking other publishers to consider similar ventures. This fall will see the debut of a teenage version of the often-saucy women’s magazine Cosmopolitan, for example.

The philosophy extends to classroom magazines such as Time for Kids and the new Teen Newsweek.

“Obviously, the game here is to try to ‘brand’ kids so when they grow up they will buy Time or Newsweek,” said Mr. Oatman of Weekly Reader Corp.

Teen Newsweek joins such siblings as My Weekly Reader, with editions for pre-K through 3rd grade; Weekly Reader, with a 4th grade edition and a 5th and 6th grade edition; and a magazine for middle and high school grades called Current Events.

The new title appears just as Weekly Reader Corp. was sold last month by Primedia Inc., a New York City-based media company, to Ripplewood Holdings LLC, a private company that recently acquired Jostens Learning Corp. Primedia, which also owns Channel One, sold Weekly Reader Corp. as part of a package of supplemental educational properties for $415 million.

Teen Newsweek, which has an initial circulation of 130,000, will often mirror the cover stories of its parent magazine, but not always, Mr. Oatman said.

Teen Newsweek‘s cover story last week was an adaptation of a Newsweek article about children in Kosovo who are taught to hate those of other ethnic backgrounds. There was also a story about whether new security measures will make schools safer or turn them into prisons.

Boy Bands and Puzzles

Not every article in the classroom magazines is so serious. Teen Newsweek had short items last week about electronic books, Beanie Babies, and LFO, the latest sensation in boy bands.

Claudia Wallis, the managing editor of Time for Kids, pointed out that while the overall field is competitive, each of the classroom magazines targets different age groups, with only slight overlap.

Time for Kids has a circulation of more than 2.2 million for its two editions, one of which goes to 2nd and 3rd graders and the other to 4th through 6th graders. The total circulation for Scholastic’s news magazines--Scholastic News, Junior Scholastic, and Upfront--is 5.5 million. The circulation for Weekly Reader’s news publications--all Weekly Reader titles plus Teen Newsweek and Current Events--is about 6.5 million.

Ms. Wallis said she likes to think that Time for Kids helped inspire the two new magazines.

“I think we must have had something to do with it,” she said. “I think it is exciting that so many more players are interested in providing sophisticated new publications for kids.”

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