A day in a `Girls' Life'

Magazine: The Baltimore-based publication, written for 8- to 14-year-olds, has survived for five years.

July 29, 1999|By Melody Holmes | Melody Holmes,SUN STAFF

Behind the barbed-wire fences of a flashy used-car lotsits a drab, plain building, hidden behind trees and tall grass. One might think that the building is abandoned, or at the very least closed for business.

But with a short walk inside to the secretary at the front desk, the building comes to life, full of young faces, their voices and giggles echoing off the walls. What appears to be a teen-ager's dimly lit bedroom -- with magazines sprawled all over the floor, snacks, stuffed animals and dolls scattered this way and that -- is actually a place of business, the home of Girls' Life magazine in Baltimore. The giggles and shouts belong to its employees.

The girlish, playful attitudes of the employees just may be what makes Girls' Life appeal to its demographic: girls ages 8 to 14. With its August/September issue, the magazine will have reached the five-year mark -- nothing to scoff at in a business where many publications never see their first anniversaries.

"I'm surprised we didn't make a bigger deal out of our five-year anniversary issue," says Kelly White, the magazine's senior editor. White, 36, joined Girls' Life six months before its first issue in 1994.

What has helped the magazine last this long, says associate editor Kerstin Czarra, 28, is that the staff thrives on input from the readers. "A lot of ideas we get are from girls who write in. We know what's important to our girls," Czarra says. She adds, "It always amazes me how smart the girls are."

The magazine's annual "Readers Take Over" issue will be on newsstands in October.

The other trick, says national advertising director Jennifer Brown, 36, is that the magazine must be willing to adjust to changes over time.

"You have to be reasonably flexible," Brown says. She adds that since the magazine is targeted at girls 8 to 14, the readership changes frequently. "They grow in and they go through Girls' Life and then they're gone. It's a very finite period of time."

To further keep up with changes, "You always want to be fresh; you always want to be current," says Czarra.

The parents who shell out the allowance money that likely pays for subscriptions to Girls' Life and the copies that quickly disappear from newsstands may be glad to know that besides keeping up with the times and listening to readers, the magazine's editors make sure that its material is appropriate for its young readers.

Though it very carefully deals with subjects such as crushes on boys and tips on dating, the magazine certainly doesn't ignore males. But things at Girls' Life didn't always work that way.

White says, "We used to not talk about boys at all, but we got so many letters about boys. We listen to our readers." But White adds, "We don't talk about sex ever. We try not to be a parent, yet we give them some guidance. We try to boost their self-esteem and let them know that they can do anything. I wish there was a Girls' Life when I was their age. I was reading Seventeen way before I should have."

Girls' Life works to identify the fine line between growing up and growing up too fast. However, this commitment to keep the magazine "age appropriate" allows for losses when it comes to big advertisers who use sex to sell their products.

"A lot of advertisers are inappropriate for this age group," says Brown. She says it is for this reason the magazine must turn down many potential ads.

The policy of keeping adult-oriented material out of Girls' Life seems to suit its readers.

Fifteen-year-old Ariella Leve of Pikesville says she likes Girls' Life because it "doesn't put an intense emphasis on guys and dating and fashion and beauty."

After being given a subscription as a birthday gift, Ariella became a fan of the magazine. She is now spending her second summer as a two-week intern at Girls' Life. Ariella says that she notices the careful planning and decision-making that goes into each issue. "There are things that the reader wouldn't think twice about," she says, "But they go over and over it."

Ariella has had her movie reviews published in the magazine as well as a piece of her art.

Dani Gelman began reading Girls' Life last year, at 14. Her interest in the magazine allowed her the chance to be a two-week summer intern as well. Dani describes Girls' Life as "a light magazine" that she would recommend to her friends. She says she enjoys Girls' Life because it has "fun, creative things to do."

Both girls say that the magazine is sort of like a treasure to them. "We don't like to share," says Ariella.

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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