Meeting tight deadlines is all part of the fun for students involved on The Paper, says Harvey McGavin
The Sun said it was "a terrific read", the Independent admired its "bright writing" and the Daily Mirror called it "remarkably impressive". National newspapers are not often unanimous in their praise, and it's even more unusual that the object of their glowing reviews should be another newspaper.
For once, the hype is justified. Ever since its first edition rolled off the presses last summer, The Paper - a 36-page tabloid with a circulation of 100,000 - has been making headlines.
As the first newspaper in the UK to be written and produced by children for children, it is a truly co-operative enterprise and a unique project.
Children aged from 10 to 18, from 52 schools in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, think up story ideas, write the copy and put it all together.
At monthly Saturday editorial meetings, section editors are elected, story ideas thrashed out and the finer points of page design and photography discussed. In between, they communicate via www.the-paper.org, their specially designed website which enables correspondents across the county to file copy and swap story ideas. All stories have to be submitted through registered "bureaux" such as schools, libraries or youth clubs.
The fifth issue - distributed to every secondary and most primary schools in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in December - tackled everything from Guantanamo Bay and credit cards to animal rights and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Past issues have given typical teenage concerns, such as bullying, drugs, homework and Harry Potter, an airing in their colourful pages. But the serious stuff is offset by quirky features on pigs as pets and clay-pigeon shooting, personal stories from children who are home educated or related to pop stars, and amusing quizzes such as How hip is your Gran?
It all adds up to invaluable experience in the notoriously difficult to break into business of journalism. For Sandie Mills, 14, editor of the fourth issue and lifestyle editor of the fifth (the team routinely swap jobs between issues), it has been an eye opener:"I'm learning all about how newspapers are made," she says. "I didn't realise how hard it was to create a newspaper from scratch."
Before joining The Paper, Umay Kalsoom, image editor for issue five and occasional reporter, thought that although newspapers were sometimes interested in young people's issues they were not "written for us to read, but for our parents or teachers".
Having learned how to "write copy, do interviews, manage my time, explain what I would like to see, express my ideas and meet deadlines" she now has her eyes set on a job in journalism. "I have a lot more confidence now," she says. "I even entered an essay competition for the Guardian."
But not everybody involved wants to work in the press. Jennifer Empson, production editor since the first edition, has ambitions to be an interpreter. "They wanted somebody to do graphics and the IT side of things and I thought this would be fun as I'm not very good at English but I am at computers."
The best things about working on The Paper are the people she has met and "the sense of achievement when you see the printed copies, and everything's finally come together."
Just as with any newspaper, making it look good and read well depends on good management and financing. The Paper was set up by Richard Powys, of Cambridgeshire's Education Business Link Organisation (CEBLO). Richard died soon after the first edition came out, but in order to turn his idea of a newspaper "written and edited by young people, for young people" into a going concern, he had raised funding, bought equipment, organised training and persuaded people to contribute time and expertise. "It was his vision, he inspired it," says Julie Kelham, the project's co-ordinator.
The Paper has resisted taking paid advertising - CEBLO and Nokia sponsor two of its seven sections. It costs about pound;8,000 to print and distribute each issue, and this is offset by help in kind from numerous businesses. Three local printworks offer their services on a rota system and a donation of QuarkXpress software will be used to produce future issues, replacing the old-fashioned cut-and-paste method.
As an ex-teacher, Julie Kelham can see the benefits of the project. "It's very exciting for the children to think they are producing something that goes all over Cambridge and Peterborough."
And when she goes into schools to give assemblies about The Paper, she markets it as a great way to teach the new curriculum requirements for citizenship. "Sometimes teachers associate it with English and don't see it as a part of active citizenship as well," she says.
One of the most important elements behind The Paper's success is the network of mentors who are available to give advice and guidance. Kevin O'Neill, a newspaper journalist with 40 years' experience, is one of 17 mentors with skills in journalism, photography, IT and design. It was his idea to draw the attention of national newspaper editors that gave The Paper's reporters such a confidence boost - not that they needed it.
"I have been amazed by their enthusiasm," he says. "It's giving them a chance to express their views on their world as they see it. If we can help them do that then that's a good thing."
He offers tips on writing news and headlines, and the design and branding of the paper. But the editor's decision, as they say, is final. "It's their paper and it's not for us as adults to tell them how to do it," he says.
"Our job is to steer them rather than drag them along. They have the ultimate say."
You can still enter a team into TES Newsday 2004, the competition where students have to put together a newspaper or news website in a day. Schools can choose to complete their publication on any one day between March 8-12.
Full details, case studies and an online registration form are available at www.newsday.co.uk
Dos and don'ts
* Appoint an editorial team who are committed to all the training days.
* Appreciate the enormous commitment and help from mentors.
* Use committed and professional layout help.
* Make sure training days are fun - not a Saturday version of school.
* Encourage communication between the editorial team and the bureaux to ensure copy and images arrive on time.
* Always get the team involved in all decisions: it has to be their newspaper - totally!
* Train bureau co-ordinators: if they are committed you are on to a winner.
* Worry if the front-page story is the last to be written, it needs more careful thought than other copy.
* Have tight deadlines between copy and printing; be realistic - allow time for layout and collecting images.
* Expect everything to happen on time and do not get stressed towards print-run time!