A lively Chinese newspaper - run by children - tries to turn a profit in Shanghai

The five editors of the Little Masters newspaper huddle over a piece of artwork submitted by one of their youngest readers. The color drawing, chosen from a pile of mailed-in manuscripts, shows a boy and girl planting a tree.

''Will you use this one?'' asks a visitor who wants to test the editors' on-the-spot editorial judgment.

After a few minutes' consultation during which everyone speaks at once, the decision comes: No, it is not suitable.

The 11-year-old deputy editor in chief, Wu Chen, quickly explains the editors' verdict: The sketch was not done in a ''presentable'' way. This was not the time of year to plant trees, and it wasn't clear what the artist was trying to say with her sketch.

The seven-year-old contributor would have to try again.

China has many newspapers and magazines for children. But Little Masters is the only such publication written and edited by children. All the editors, reporters, and contributors are under 14 years of age.

Little Masters was launched more than a year ago as a spare-time effort of children in the Children's Palace of Shanghai's Chang Ning district. Wu Chen and language editor Yang Yang say they helped start the paper because they wanted to write articles but couldn't get them published.

The 42 editors and more than 60 reporters on the paper's staff are all members of the Young Pioneers, a national primary-school organization sponsored by the Communist Youth League. The adult adviser, Zhu Jie Shi, says he gives the children free rein in managing and editing, though he coaches them in journalistic skills and techniques. The paper is laid out and printed by a local daily in Shanghai.

The newspaper's staff members do appear to operate independently, despite their age. The reporters conduct interviews on their own and without adult supervision, say the editors.

The paper also has high-level attention, if not official sanction. During a visit to Shanghai last spring by some of China's leaders, four reporters from Little Masters interviewed senior leader Deng Xiaoping and Premier Zhao Ziyang. Naturally the story made the front page with a few short paragraphs and photos.

This past summer, some of the editors traveled to Peking to solicit funds to support what they say is an unprofitable operation. They came back with more than 6,000 yuan (about $2,400).

The content of the newspaper would be familiar to children anywhere in the world. Compositions published in recent issues include an essay on autumn, a lesson on map-reading, firsthand observations on the life of a grasshopper, the story of an eight-year-old boy who learned how to boil water (overcoming his fear of fire), and a request for help from a little girl on how to cure carelessness in completing math assignments.

The newspaper receives 500 to 600 letters, essays, poems, and pieces of artwork each month, the editors say. During the interviews, the five young editors were articulate and forthright. The four boys and one girl seemed fearless, though respectful, toward adults. Several said they enjoyed newspaper work more than any other after-school activity and that they wanted journalism careers.

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