National cable news show geared for the teen-age market

When Kimberly Maher needs to go to Washington, D.C., to edit her national cable news show, she uses one of the most reliable forms of transportation - her mom takes her. Kimberly, a ninth grader at Wootton Thomas High School in suburban Maryland, spends two hours a day, seven days a week, researching, arranging, directing, interviewing, and filming her 15-minute monthly show, believed to be the first national cable news show done by children.

A slender girl with long, dark hair and a habit of fiddling with her necklace as she talks, Kimberly says she got the TV bug during a fourth-grade project in which she and her classmates at Dufief Elementary School created a videotape news show.

''Then I decided in the sixth grade that this is the news capital of the world,'' she recalls, ''and what it needed was a show for kids on news.'' Armed with that decision and a national survey showing one-third of the TV news-viewing audience to be between 12 and 18 years of age, Kimberly spent three years visiting the presidents of Sony, Panasonic, and other equipment manufacturers, looking for help in making a pilot.

''All I wanted at first was the equipment,'' she says. ''I must have asked a zillion companies.'' But it was a local businessman who lent video equipment to the persuasive young woman and, with a sample show in hand, Kimberly started making the rounds of cable companies.

''I finally found Susan Wallace at Metrovision Cable,'' she says, ''who told me that they'd love to do the show, but they're not getting any equipment for a year.'' Undaunted, the young woman called Tribune United (another cable company) , which agreed to lend her equipment and editing facilities, air her show, and let Metrovision use the tapes as well.

That left finding a studio - a problem solved by converting a small space in the Maher basement. (''My parents have been wonderful,'' she says.) Then, with interns hired from three local school systems (''It's hard for college-age kids to take orders from a 14-year-old, but they're getting used to it'') and blue T-shirts saying Washington News Kidstyle (WNKS), the show was ready to roll.

The crew took their cameras along to a press conference given to launch Nancy Reagan's anti-drug campaign. ''There was NBC, CBS, ABC, and me,'' she says. They also went into the office of ABC news anchor Frank Reynolds to ask him about covering the space news - news that happened ''before I was born,'' she says.

''We give a different slant to the news,'' says Kimberly, who believes that her program is not for kids only. ''It's obviously done differently because I'm 14. We don't talk about mortgages or insurance; we're geared toward teen-agers.''

After reading an article on young people's concerns with nuclear war, for example, Kimberly decided to insert a news item explaining both the MX and Pershing missiles. But much of the program is ''magazine style,'' she says - interviews with important Washington-based personalities (in March, she's doing Marion Barry, mayor of the city), stories on animals at the zoo and the aquarium , clips on shopping malls, reviews of juvenile fiction.

''I know what the teen-age market wants, because I am a teen-ager,'' says the director, who also balances a tough school curriculum including honors English, Spanish III, and drama with shopping trips with her friends and walks with her puppy.

Such professional demeanor is unexpected in a person her age - a fact that becomes a problem occasionally. ''But a lot of people have been fabulous about it, and given me all kinds of encouragement, done me favors, lent me clips and photos,'' Kimberly adds. She points to a letter from Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia with this note: ''I hope you will not be discouraged by those who equate youth with lack of professionalism.''

The thing that's discouraging her right now are the hours. The persistent teen is looking for a national firm to syndicate the show and give her ''a little help.''

She has no intention, however, of leaving the project. ''Right now, I'm just trying to do this show,'' she says. ''Where I'll be 10 years from now, I don't know - but I know it'll be in television.''

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