When Robert Johnson, the president and founder of Washington-based Black Entertainment Television (BET), announced his plans last month to launch a new magazine aimed at black teenagers, he said there was a "crying need" to reach a market that is under-served by the media and badly in need of positive influences.

The new publication, called YBS, which stands for Young Brothers and Sisters, will try to deal with some of the "pressing" issues facing young blacks, especially those in urban areas, such as teenage sex, drugs, staying out of trouble, careers and family relationships, Johnson said.

Johnson said many of these teenagers currently read magazines such as Teen Beat and Rap Magazine, which are exclusively oriented toward music and videos, or black adult magazines, which do not address the particular needs of a young audience.

To reach the younger "video generation," Johnson said, YBS will use "fun and hip" layouts with lots of color, and may include a poster in the middle of a music star. But more important, he said, the editorial content of the magazine will not be "preachy."

But as much as Johnson wants to emphasize the positive with his magazine, he must necessarily deal with some negatives -- such as the current soft market for magazine advertising.

Total advertising pages in the magazine industry have dropped about 3 percent this year after a 3.5 percent increase last year, said James Guthrie, executive vice president of the Magazine Publishers Association of America.

And Johnson has to contend with another sobering statistic: only one in five new magazines nationwide survives more than four years, Guthrie said.

Johnson is in the process of looking for an editor for YBS, which will be published by Paige Communications, a subsidiary of BET set up exclusively to handle the magazine. Johnson acknowledges that these are not ideal economic times to start a magazine, but he said that with the support of BET, a cable network that offers a variety of exclusively black programming, YBS can reach the young black audience.

BET is a natural vehicle to support YBS not only because of its established relationships withe big advertisers, but also because it has more communication with black youth than any other organization except perhaps the church, Johnson said.

As part of a drive to sell 200,000 subscriptions to YBS -- at $11.95 each before the first issue comes out in July (it won't be sold on newsstands), Johnson wants to solicit the help of entertainment and sports stars such as M.C. Hammer and Michael Jordan to promote the magazine on BET.

Getting ad revenue, he said, will not be as difficult as getting subscriptions. "We have good relations with advertisers already -- we've got the soft drinks, the fast food, the sneaker companies and the record labels," Johnson said. "And in addition to that we've got advertisers that will share a social commitment."

Johnson said that if the magazine can match in advertising revenue the $2.1 million that would be generated by 200,000 subscriptions, that would give the firm enough revenue to put out a magazine. And for the next two years, there is an added cushion: BET has committed $5 million toward the venture in cash, advertising incentives and staff hours.

"Our objective is to make money, of course, but that's not {the only} reason to do this thing," he said. "The reason that this magazine should exist and the reason that people should support it is that we, the black middle class ... have a special responsibility to deal with the tremendous social crisis our teenagers are facing."

He said, "There's just a crying need ... for things that will make their lives more fun, and give them more self-confidence and a greater sense of self-worth."

Although others in the publishing industry are quick to support Johnson and YBS, some say that it might be tough to get advertisers to commit to YBS if its cause is stressed more than its business value.

"You've got to see something that's black as something that's a good business opportunity. They ought to band behind it because there's a need for the book, not because it's a good cause," said Earl G. Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise Magazine. "The case should be made that it's a viable business -- and if it flies, it'll be because it's a viable business."

Magazine advertising is off across the board and fewer people are making financial decisions based on "whatever is right," Graves said. If all a company wants to do is contribute to a good cause, he said, "{it} can give to the Children's Defense Fund or any other organization."

Johnson said he does plan to stress to advertisers the "tremendous buying power and economic clout" of black America, along with the need to orient black youth to traditional values of work and reward -- a role he hopes YBS can play.

"Unless we have a work force with a work ethic, this country can't be competitive," Johnson said. "These companies can't get entry level workers unless these kids are oriented to getting a job."