Teen Reporter Gets Jump on Career : Journalism: He's covered disasters, crime and even the Dodgers for Glendale paper since he was 15.


The newspaper editor couldn't get his reporter to stay home.

The reporter labored all weekend for the Glendale News-Press, putting in 10-hour days and churning out several stories, one of which would run on the front page.

The upcoming Monday was a holiday, and Managing Editor Phil Drake ordered the reporter to stay home, get some rest, have a good time. But he showed up Monday morning, determined to finish a long-postponed feature article.

Armando Barragan, the reporter, was barely 15 years old.

"I yelled at him, I really screamed, 'Please go out and have some fun this weekend!' " said Drake, who is no longer at the paper. "You have the rest of your life to work. Go out and do kid things!"

But Barragan wanted more than kid things. Today, he still does. For more than three years, the Glendale High senior has worked as a reporter for the News-Press, writing more than 500 articles.

Since the summer before ninth grade, when he called the News-Press and offered to write movie reviews, Barragan has persisted despite occasional rejection by older colleagues. But he has benefited from coaching from most of the staff.

Begging rides from his mother (until he was old enough to drive), he's covered fires, earthquakes, crimes and, briefly, the Dodgers. His occasional opinion column is published with a photo, a journalistic privilege. He flew to Portland and to Kalamazoo, Mich., this summer to cover a local softball team's tournament games. Eager to work evenings, holidays and weekends, he has on five occasions written every article on the News-Press front page.

"Sometimes it's easy to forget Armando is 17," said Brian Martin, a News-Press sportswriter who works with Barragan.

Aside from being intelligent, punctual and a quick learner, Barragan's audacity has made him hard to turn away.

"Sometimes he'd be in the newsroom on Sundays before I got there," Drake said. "I still don't know how he got in the building because everything was locked up, but he had already scrolled the [news service] wires and called the police to see what was going on. He came in like some kind of dynamo, and there was no way to get him out of here."

Barragan's success at the News-Press (which is published by the Times Mirror Co., the parent company of The Times) is a nostalgic reminder of the newspaper business's old days, in which doggedness meant far more than credentials.

"No one actually said, 'You suck,' so I just kept coming back," Barragan said. "I loved every minute of it."

Barragan, who is broad-shouldered and stands 6-foot-2, is the bespectacled older son of Glendale restaurateurs who looks older than his years. Still, he's undeniably a teen-ager. He walks with a clumsy, loping gait. "Cool" and "awesome" punctuate his rapid-fire speech. His bedroom is a hodgepodge of newspapers and clothes, his mother says, and he insists that he doesn't know how to make his bed. His walls are decorated with posters of rock stars and his favorite newspaper articles. Like many teen-agers, he is forging his own identity, in part, by shunning his family.

"He's very private," said his mother, Rose Barragan, a shy, soft-spoken woman who watches her son's success with admiration. "He doesn't show us his work. We can't ask him too many questions or he gets defensive."

There is little room in Armando's schedule for family time. Aside from writing sports stories for the News-Press (he's paid by the piece, like any contributing writer) and taking a full load of classes, he is editor-in-chief of The Explosion, the triweekly paper at Glendale High; director of public relations for the student government; a stuntman for the cheerleading squad (he practices two to four times a week and attends all football and basketball games), and is in charge of inventory and bookkeeping at his parents' three Mexican restaurants. Somehow, he manages to have a social life.

What can't he do? Apparently, schoolwork.

"Our average grade-point average is a 3.9," said the Explosion's adviser, Pat Lancaster, who oversees 30 reporters and editors on the paper. "Let me put it this way: Armando brings that number way down."

Barragan, who says his GPA hovers in the 2.5 range, says he can tolerate English and history, but draws the line at math. "Honestly, math is in the way. Why do they make you take geometry in school? I've learned more English from journalism than I ever have in school--vocabulary and grammar and all that. I sometimes wish I could be out of high school now and work."

Nevertheless, he's committed to getting a bachelor's degree, even if he has to attend a community college first. He will stick to journalism, but hopes to break into television in the next few years, he said.

"I wouldn't say I'm obsessed" with journalism, he said, grinning. "But it's something you can never get tired of. There's always a new story, a new angle to cover. I get bored so easily. I could never imagine working a job where I had to do the same thing every day."

Lancaster, who is also yearbook adviser, predicts that the yearbook won't name Barragan Most Likely to Succeed at the end of his senior year because in many ways he already has. In a half-joking reference to the teen-ager's penchant for attacking projects with a whirlwind of energy and excitement, he suggests Barragan may be named Most Likely to Get an Ulcer.

"It really wouldn't surprise me if I was working for him someday," said ex-boss Drake, who is not the only News-Press staffer to express such sentiments. "It wouldn't surprise me at all."

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