It’s 1979—President Jimmy Carter resides in the White House, and Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain’s first female prime minister. Music is big, as are the boom boxes. But a small, INNOVATIVE new cassette player also lets people listen to their tunes wherever they go!
Something New for Kids to Read
In September of that year, a nifty new newspaper rolls off the press here in Arizona, and it’s unlike anything around.
Forty years ago this month, the first edition of Bear Essential News printed and was delivered into the hands of thousands of school kids!
Filled with CAMPY artwork, news blurbs of what’s happening, random facts and puzzles, Bear Essential News for Kids is off to a fun start. Like most of the daily newspapers for grown-ups of the time, this newspaper for young people is black and white—there aren’t any color pictures. The front page has a bear as a school crossing guard, but best of all, there are hidden pictures in the illustration!
A lot of thought goes into launching any new newspaper. Bear was started by a schoolteacher in Tucson and her husband, a talented graphic artist. The teacher realized that students didn’t have anything written at their level that would help them keep up with current events. So she came up with a scholastic newspaper.
The two would need to figure out what content the publication would offer kids and classrooms, the “look” of the front cover and subsequent pages, how it would be distributed each month and how they would market it to the schools and get enough advertisers to support this novel concept.
The first run is 35,000 newspapers for Tucson- area schools. The idea catches on, and a couple years later, even more schools and students all over Phoenix start to get Bear Essential News! Not only does the newspaper keep young people informed about what’s going on around them, it gets them reading.
What’s Hot in 1979
So much goes on in any given year, and a lot happens in 1979—the INAUGURAL year of Bear Essential News.
The three major TV networks and PBS, which airs educational shows like “Sesame Street” are free and have the highest ratings. Sitcoms (situation comedy shows) like “Mork & Mindy,” “Happy Days” and “M*A*S*H,” and a vaudeville-type “The Muppet Show” are keeping millions of families laughing.
Gasoline starts at around 85 cents a gallon, but a hostage crisis in the Middle East causes prices to almost double. But there is good news, too, in 1979. The Voyager I spacecraft sends back information on Jupiter, its rings, moons, radiation and magnetic fields. Later in the year, Mother Teresa, who has dedicated her life to helping the poor in India, receives the Nobel Peace Prize.
Music, Especially Disco, Is BIG!
The lights, the disco ball, the hits, the dancing—disco has been growing for years and may be at its height in 1979, influencing the clothes we wear, the moves we make, the movies we see, how and where we hang out, and even how we skate! Not surprisingly, singing sensations like Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, Blondie, Michael Jackson and the Village People hit it big with their dance music.
And for those who love listening to their music while they skate outside or want to have their tunes wherever they go, Sony launches its new Walkman in Japan, a clever little hi-fi cassette player with earphones that’s small enough to carry in your hand or clip onto your waistband. The idea comes from Sony’s small Pressman, a cassette recorder for journalists to do interviews! Selling for $150, this cassette player changes how people listen to their music, much like Apple’s iPod would do later.
Arcades offer new desk-size electronic game consoles where kids and young adults can play games like Galaxian, Asteroids or Space Invaders. But Atari makes it so kids and families can play electronic games at home, too!
The Atari 400 hooks up to your color TV and has a slot for a game cartridge, and games can be controlled using its built-in keyboard or its joysticks. The Atari 800 was a bit fancier with more memory and an extra game cartridge slot.
The really hot home gadget is the Apple II computer, which also hooks up to your color TV. This home computer costs a whopping $1,195 and programs are loaded through an audio cassette player. It’s the beginning of a huge industry and one of the most successful companies in America!
Bear Essential Turns 40
Since its fabulous start 40 years ago, Bear Essential News has printed and distributed tens of millions of newspapers to kids, classrooms and families.
A couple years after it started, Bear added a reporting program so kids could cover news stories, meet interesting and important people, and have their stories read by thousands of other young people!
“What an accomplishment for Bear Essential to be turning 40 with this issue,” says Editor Stephen Gin, who started as the typesetter for the newspaper in 1983. “Our mission is still to educate, enrich and entertain those who use our newspaper, especially our young readers here in Arizona. But we’ve expanded what we do to promote literacy in so many ways and offer all the newspapers, online resources, Common Core-based classroom worksheets and electronic newsletters for teachers and parents at no charge to help strengthen our community.”
Bear is holding its free Young Reporters Workshops in September for Phoenix and in October for Tucson. This is where you’ll learn how to report and will get your official press pass and other things you need to start reporting for Bear. Please see the sidebar story on this page for details on how to sign up.
• In Volume 1, Issue 1, the mascot on the cover didn’t have much of a name, just The Bear. Shortly thereafter, he became Benson D. Bear. When the newspaper was revamped, the mascot went by Boomer Bear!
• The first issue of Bear Essential rolled off the press in September 1979.
• Boomer doesn’t speak—he just writes.
• You can write a Letter to Boomer and he’ll answer it in the newspaper! Email your letter to [email protected] or mail it to Boomer Bear, 2525 E. Broadway Blvd., Tucson AZ 85716.
• It takes Art Director Gary Shepard 3–3½ days to create one of his iconic front covers for Bear Essential News. He draws these seek-n’-finds actual size and then scans them.
• Like a lot of kids, Boomer Bear’s favorite food is pepperoni pizza!
• A “folio” is the line of type at the top or bottom of the page giving the page number and sometimes other essential info.
• There are always an even number of pages to a newspaper!
• The newsprint Bear Essential is printed on is partly recycled paper. So never throw away your newspaper or magazine. Recycle them so they can be made into future Bear Essential newspapers!
• A newspaper’s nameplate is the stylized banner on its front cover giving its name.
• A headline is the large, usually bold type above a news story or feature.
• A story that shares the reporter’s opinion about a book, movie, restaurant or performance is called a review!
• The fact checker and quality control person for a newspaper is called an editor! Editors also determine what goes into the newspaper.
• Bear Essential News and the Young Reporters Program have received local and even international awards for promoting reading and writing to young people!
Become a Young Reporter!
It’s the start of an amazing adventure when you join the Young Reporters Program. Even if you’ve never thought about journalism before, the ability to gather information, write clearly and concisely, and report the news are valuable skills. This program offers you the opportunity to be a real reporter and see your work in print!
As a Young Reporter, you stay aware of the latest news and information, you discover new interests, and you become more knowledgeable in a wide variety of topics. Best of all, you improve your overall smarts!
Now is the perfect time to get started as a Young Reporter. Learn all that you need to know to get started at Bear’s fabulous, fun, FREE Young Reporters Workshop happening this month!
Sign Up Now!
Being a Young Reporter gives you an inside look at different topics and a great set of skills. The workshop will get you started.
The Phoenix Young Reporters Workshop will be held Sept. 21 from 1 to 3:45 p.m. You must reserve your space to attend. Have your teacher or parent call 866-639-7543 today to sign up for the workshop. Kids will get tips from professional journalists and will take a turn in the anchor's chair. They will receive the tools they need to get the scoop!
If you cannot attend the workshop you can still become a Young Reporter! Just call or go to Bear’s website to find the sign-up form.
Young Reporters Workshop
at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
555 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Sept. 21, 2019 • 1 to 3:45 p.m.
To sign up, call us toll-free at
1 866 NEWS KID
Teachers may bring up to 20 students.