Right Up His Alley

Catonsville Entrepreneur Timur Guler, 9, Has Made It His Business To Satisfy The Neighborhood's Hunger For News With His Own Paper, 'The Alley Weekly'

Cover Story

September 04, 2005|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun Staff

The Alley Weekly has pretty much everything you might want in a newspaper. There's foreign news with the all-important local angle ("Travels to Egypt"), science reporting ("NASA Launches Shuttle"), letters to the editor, an original comic, and a food section ("Tasty Treats.")

There's even a paid advertisement for a local roofing company, though so far, it's the only business that's been smart enough to take advantage of what must be the publicity bargain of the century. For just 50 cents, W.B. Cooper Co. ("specializing in slate and copper roofing") has secured a quarter-page ad, with a nice little illustration of two carpenters, a hammer and nails. For the whole season.

Subscriptions are free, unless you count paying the property taxes required to inhabit the two blocks that define The Alley's circulation area in Catonsville.

"I would like to commend you for your publication," reads one typical letter to the editor. "Your articles are informative and well-written."

If you are new to the neighborhood and lucky enough to be profiled in The Alley, you will first receive a copy of the newsletter in your mailbox, along with a handwritten note requesting an interview. On the appointed day, the editor-in-chief himself will phone, then show up on your doorstep carrying a blue clipboard, on which he may have written out some questions in advance. He will be wearing his black suit, with a blue shirt and red tie.

"Dressing up makes me look more professional," says Timur Guler, 9.

The Alley is Timur's brainstorm, his baby, his pride and joy, his way of connecting with and trying to digest the big, complicated world around him. It is far more important to him than a mere summer project.

Sadly, the advent of the school year will have repercussions for Timur's publishing schedule, so readers won't receive issues with the same regularity they had enjoyed over the summer. But never fear: The Alley will continue.

Other kids may spend their summer vacations playing baseball, swimming or reading the latest volume of the Harry Potter series. This is how Timer Guler spent his:

Not too long after school let out in June, Timur decided to publish a newsletter that would record all the goings-on in the alley that runs between Stratford and Lambeth roads.

The alley is where life in that particular stretch of Catonsville is at its most vibrantly communal. Kids play games and ride bikes in the alley; the smell from backyard barbecues wafts tantalizingly through; grown-ups sit on their back stoops or porch swings and visit with their neighbors.

Each weekend, Timur comes up with story ideas for his newsletter (typically, seven stories a week) and assigns them to his staff of four. On Mondays, he reports and writes between four and six stories which he has saved for himself, and edits those submitted by his correspondents: sister, Aylin Guler, 11, and neighbors Shelby Riggie, 11, and Ashton Eby, 12. (In a section of the newsletter titled "About the

Alley," Shelby briefly profiles her boss: "Timur Guler has been an excellent editor-in-Chief," she writes. "I personally have enjoyed every bit of the time I have worked for him.")

On Tuesdays, Timur finishes the writing and editing, decides where the stories will appear on the page, and prints out the newsletter on his home computer. After a final once-over by his mom, The Alley is stapled together and ready for distribution.

Finally, on Wednesdays, Timur delivers the paper -- actually more of a newsletter -- to the 33 customers who back on to the alley. (Like all modern papers, The Alley Weekly has an electronic version, too: Another dozen or so readers receive it by e-mail.)

Timur's mother, Colleen Guler, estimates that her son spent roughly 25 hours a week putting out the nine issues he published this summer. "He takes it very seriously," she says. "He really worries about meeting his deadlines. He can't understand why I won't let him stay up until 11:30 p.m. the night before the paper comes out. What I like best is how he's carried this project through the whole summer, and how he's gotten everyone involved."

Working journalist

On a recent Monday afternoon, impatiens and black-eyed Susans poke their heads through slats in the fence as Timur heads out his back door and strides purposefully to his first assignment. He finds 16-year-old Staci Riggie on a porch swing, and peppers her with questions about her job as a babysitter:

How long has Staci been babysitting? Does she prefer caring for little kids, or older ones? How does she keep them occupied? Does she have any advice for prospective sitters?

Timur's small voice is all but inaudible below the throaty growl of a machine taking limbs off a tree in an adjoining yard. Staci thinks before answering, and Timur steals a look at his watch: time's a wasting. He ends the interview by asking Staci for a quote.

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