Annie Meyers-Shyer eyed her staff seated around the butcher block conference table. It was getting late, and she needed some hard-hitting ideas for her new magazine, Debut.
Staff members began pitching ideas for the magazine's most endearing column, "Things Parents Do That Kids Hate."
"I hate it when a boy calls and my mom says, 'How cute,' " said one staffer, gnawing on a Hello Kitty pencil.
"I hate it when my dad says, 'God gave you a brain, use it,' " added another.
"I hate it when I'm talking with my friends and my mom taps my rear end and says, 'I remember when I could hold this little tushie in the palm of my hand.' "
Look out, Los Angeles. A pint-sized crew of eight is carving out its own niche in the hotly contested L.A. magazine market.
Debut is not a neighborhood newsletter thrown together to please grandma and Aunt Mabel. Debut, a magazine with a slick cover, has cornered the likes of cartoonist Matt Groening and singer Paula Abdul for interviews. The premiere issue last summer had a press run of 250. The editorial staff of 7- to 12-year-olds expects to publish the second issue in May and a third in the fall.
Founding editor Annie Meyers-Shyer, 10, whose byline identifies her as "Editor and Chief," said she was struck with the idea for Debut last spring while watching "Nickelodeon" a children's cable TV channel. "I remember the announcer saying, 'She made her television debut . . . ,' and pop, it came to me," said Annie, who lives in Sherman Oaks with her parents. "I said to myself, 'Why not start a magazine called Debut?' "
Soon after, Annie gathered a few school friends and began holding planning sessions twice a month in her home. The first issue, which appeared in June, was hand-delivered by the junior writers to the three San Fernando Valley elementary schools that the children attend. (Parents asked that their children's schools--one public and two private--not be named.) Contributions and reader comments were also solicited through neighborhood flyers.
The charter issue had 14 pages, with a glossy cover billing the venture as "The First Magazine for Kids by Kids." Annie expects the May issue to be about 25 pages--with a staff-taken cover photograph of Abdul decked out in a black velvet dress. The Debut staff landed the interviews with Groening and Abdul through contacts their parents have with the entertainment industry.
Typing and printing are done by Annie's parents, Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers, who also paid the first issue's printing costs, although they declined to say how much they spent.
"At first we said we would pay for it, thinking the printing wouldn't cost much," said Shyer, who along with Meyers has written, directed and produced such films as "Baby Boom," "Private Benjamin," "Irreconcilable Differences" and "Father of the Bride," now in production. "But from now on, they're on their own when paying for printing."
The crew has since raised $850 by finding sponsors to pay $30 apiece for a mention in the magazine or by selling ads to Valley businesses for $50 to $200, depending on the ad's size.
Some area stores have agreed to distribute Debut along with other freebies such as L.A. Weekly and L.A. Parent magazines. Some copies will be sold to friends or family for 50 cents each.
"We were very impressed by Annie and her project," said Debbie Vint, manager of Little Feet, a Studio City children's shoe store that purchased a half-page ad and has agreed to stock the magazine. "She called first--was very professional--and asked to stop by. I was amazed at how young and smart she was. We were glad to help out."
"We don't lay down any rules, like how long articles should be," Meyers said. "This is not just, 'Let's make a magazine' and they have it produced one week later. They're really seeing what it takes to do a long-term project." Meyers said she and her husband assist the kids with editing and layout, and then typeset the project on computers.
Annie's parents readily admitted that their inside Hollywood connections helped attract celebrity cover interviews. But they preferred to downplay those connections, shifting the focus to the Debut staff's efforts.
"Annie is learning how to organize," Shyer said. "She really feels responsible because it's her magazine."
Besides interviews, Debut provides a revealing glimpse of pre-pubescent life in articles that are written in what could only be called Kidspeak. The "Lunchbox Likes & Dislikes" column lists such offenders as carrots, celery, raisins, egg salad and pears. Hot chocolate, turkey, pizza, pickles and chips are deemed OK.
And next time grandma says, "What Should I Get the Kids?" Debut suggests: Gameboy, Nintendo, clothes ("sometimes"), gift certificates to music stores, cash ("doesn't have to be a lot") or pets.
A "Kid to Kid" column offers advice to readers: "My brother picks on me and yells at me a lot. Help! From, Kimberly."
"Dear Kimberly," Debut replies. "Tell your brother you are not a toy. If he still yells at you, listen to this--cry. Even if you don't feel like crying, your parents will come to your rescue. Good luck. P.S. You could also ask him how he would feel in your shoes."
A regular gossip column, which interjects consumer and environmental concerns as well, features inside entertainment biz news. The latest: "Did you know that Paula Abdul is opening a dance school? And Milli Vanilli is putting out their own album with their own voices. And when you flush the toilet, it wastes 5 gallons of water."
At a recent planning session, Annie asked the staff for their reports and articles. Most editors--the staff members refer to themselves as editors instead of reporters--were dwarfed by oversized folders perched in their laps. A Felix the Cat pencil holder lay next to soda cans, photographic proof sheets, pizza, chips and gum wrappers.
"Amy, how is the 'What I Like About the '60s' column coming along?" asked Christina Bilao-Tyrell, 12.
"I thought it was, 'What I Like About the '70s ,' " said Amy Brown, 10. Both Amy and Christina live in Sherman Oaks.
"The '70s ?" Christina shot back. "There isn't anything to like about the '70s. God, get your decades straight!"
Christina's sister, Lauren, 7, presented a glimpse of her "Life in the Middle" column about the trials of being a middle child:
"It's awful when my baby brother gets all the attention, and when my sister gets to stay up late and talk on the phone. And there I am all alone. The middle child. But let's look on the bright side: When you get right down to it, what would I do without them?"
Staff members said they have no journalistic career goals and that their magazine is "just kid fun."
"I don't think I would always want to be writing and sitting down so much," said Cameron Schiller, 10, of Encino.
"I sort of want to be active when I grow up," added Chris Huddleston, 10, also of Encino.
The staff began to break ranks during the hourlong meeting, even as Annie's parents prodded them to nail down other pressing tasks. Some made faces at each other, another began talking about the New Kids on the Block while others made gagging gestures at the mention of the popular singing group, whose members are idols of the pre-pubescent set.
Annie pounded her fist on the table. The experiment in kid power was veering off track. "Who's going to transcribe the Paula Abdul interview?" she said.
"I'll transcribe it," said Chris, tugging at his black turtleneck. "My dad's good at that."