Andritsalna, Greece — While most of his friends play soccer, Christos Tsigouris interviews Greek officials and writes editorials about garbage. It has been that way for three years. Since he was nine years old, Christos has forsaken usual boyhood pursuits to single-handedly publish his own monthly newspaper, which he distributes for free in this small town on the Greek peninsula of Peloponnesus.
Now, the 12-year-old prodigy has gained national publicity beyond Andritsalna , an isolated, sheep-raising town of 500. Surprisingly, this attention does not appear to have affected the pint-sized journalist with short, brown hair and big , brown eyes.
''It pleases me and gives me more power to write,'' he said, sitting in his father's six-table restaurant located below the family's tiny home.
Called The Flea, the two-page, handwritten publication offers the standard fare of local births, deaths, accidents, weddings, and soccer scores. ''I chose the name because a flea is small, and I feel small compared to the other newspaper,'' he said, referring to New Horizon, the town's other - and adult-run - monthly.
But he added with pride, ''My newspaper may be smaller, but sometimes it has better things in it than the big one.''
The Flea also has liberal use of gossip that Christos hears as he strolls through this poor town with a narrow main street and two hotels.
Although filled mostly with ''good news,'' the paper is not without controversy. A recent editorial took the townswomen to task for throwing their garbage ''all over the place.''
''I thought they were going to come after me with brooms,'' recalled Christos with an ever-so-slight smile.
The boy publisher generally steers clear of politicians and politics.
''I'm too young to know about all this,'' he said.
Yet, it is a politician who is responsible for the boy's newfound fame. Georgios Mangakis, Greece's minister of justice, granted Christos an interview as he passed through Andritsalna on a political trip last fall.
''He was deeply impressed because the newspaper was very good,'' said Panos Bitsaxis, a special adviser to Mangakis.
The minister then instructed an Andritsalna court to allow the young publisher free use of photocopy facilities. Previously, Christos had used carbon paper to duplicate the 100 to 150 copies of each edition of The Flea.
Mangakis also asked a government agency to give Christos a typewriter and to allot 10,000 drachmas ($100) a month toward the paper's production costs. To date, administrative red tape has held up receipt of the typewriter and the money.
But a love for news gathering rather than profit is uppermost on Christos's mind. He started his paper, which he terms a hobby, after being captivated by lively political discussions at his father's restaurant.
His parents are supportive of his publishing efforts to a point.
''We keep some things secret from him,'' laughed his mother.
Retorted Christos, ''But I'm going to find out what they are.''
While he devotes most spare moments to the newspaper, Christos also finds time to work at his father's restaurant, listen to church music, read other newspapers, and even play soccer.