Inside the reception, the big editors were talking gossip. Outside the reception, the little editors were talking issues.

"We conducted a session early today on poverty," 15-year-old Rebecca Walkowitz, a senior editor with Children's Express, said as the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual meeting came to an end last night. Walkowitz was then interrupted by several of her fellow journalists calling out, "PAHvity! PAHvity!"

"It's like a personal joke for us," said Albert Lin, 12. "Last time we were here we met with New Jersey Governor Kean and he has an accent and he kept saying 'pahvity.' "

Children's Express is a nationwide news service with reporters under age 13 and editors in their teens, nine of whom spoke about pahvity yesterday at the convention.

Down the J.W. Marriott hall in the ASNE predinner reception, New York Daily News Editor F. Gilman Spencer had left such topics behind and was explaining the point of the yearly conference. The meeting, he said, is "fine, but its greatest asset is gossip, and that's why half of us are here."

"It takes itself far too seriously," said Robert Ingle, executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News, although he seemed to be having a far from serious time. In fact, he was so unserious that he rushed to describe Spencer as "crazy as hell."

"I am on the program committee next year," he said, "and we're going to make it much more exciting."

Smiling, Ingle refused to comment on his plans.

With morsels of industry gossip serving as hors d'oeuvres, it was into dinner and the presentation of writing awards to John Camp of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch, David Finkel of the St. Petersburg Times, Jonathan Freedman of the San Diego Tribune, Bradley Graham of The Washington Post and Roger Simon of the Baltimore Sun.

The tuxedoed adults received their awards and applause. The T-shirted kids had received mugs from C-Span in thanks for an earlier appearance. More clutter for the car ride back to New York.

"We're all driving back in one station wagon with six boxes!" giggled Matthew Colbert, 12.

Because no dinner for out-of-town visitors would be complete without in-town jokes, New York Times columnist William Safire provided a good supply for the 1,000 or so editors and friends, including the by-now ubiquitous George Bush motto of "You die, I fly."

"This is cruel," he began one joke, but explained that it was so popular in Washington he felt compelled to deliver it. "The Supreme Court goes out to lunch and the waiter asks Sandra Day O'Connor, 'What do you want for your meat course?' 'Roast beef.' 'And the vegetables?' 'They'll have to order for themselves.' "

And in the timeless Washington tradition of self-deprecation: "Pundits are like a thermos bottle. Put in hot coffee and it keeps it hot. Put in iced tea and it keeps it cold. And you have to wonder -- how does it know?"

As the black-tie crowd laughed over the chocolate-covered strawberries, the young writers and editors were climbing into one station wagon with six boxes, and judging from their expressions, the drive ahead was going to be a long one.