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Celebrating 10 years of NeXt

Each year, a new class comes in, nervous but excited. Each year, seasoned veterans wave goodbye and move on. But for all of the past 10 years, one thing remained, connecting them: The Buffalo News' NeXt section.

That's right -- it's been 10 years, enough time to see 520 editions and about 300 teen correspondents come and go since The Buffalo News youth section made its debut on Sept. 12, 1995.

NeXt readers say they pick up the section for its interesting reviews and features. "I do like to read it because it's interesting to see everything that kids my age are doing," said Mount Mercy Academy student Sara Fernandez, 16.

Teachers, parents -- and grandparents -- read NeXt as well. "They like to read it because it really keeps them in touch with their kids' lives," said Susan LoTempio, NeXt's first editor and now assistant managing editor for readership at The News.

Over the years correspondents have written about pop culture (from "Dawson's Creek" to "The O.C."), sports, the college experience, fashion trends, braces, chicken wings and dorm furnishings. And they've won national awards from the Youth Editors Association (YEA) for articles about serious issues including the Sept. 11th attacks, eating disorders and teen parenthood.

NeXt placed either second or third in general excellence in the YEA competition for each of the past four years and has won top design awards for the work of News graphic designer Christina Visco.

Several NeXt correspondents went on to study journalism in college and several -- Caroline Brancatella, Andrew Parks, Jen Aronoff, Tiffany Lankes, Elizabeth Hacken and Dan Zak -- worked during college as summer interns at The Buffalo News.

"So many talented teens have contributed to NeXt over the years, and we hope to keep working toward the goal of our cover logo, of NeXt as the 'voice of the next generation,'" said Jean Westmoore, NeXt editor since 1998.

In this NeXt anniversary issue, we decided to catch up with a random handful of correspondents to find out what they've been up to since they left NeXt. And we invite others to e-mail to let us know what you're up to!

SARA ANN MEHLTRETTER of Orchard Park wrote an essay for the new NeXt section as a 7th grader in 1996, became a correspondent in 8th grade -- and kept writing until her graduation from Mount Mercy Academy in 2001.

"Every time I saw my name in print was a high point," she remembered. "Knowing that you were part of something that was coming out regularly, that was professional, was really cool."

At Boston College, she studied political rhetoric and combined her interests in politics and writing to work at several campus publications. She taught at debate camps for kids this summer before starting graduate school at Penn State and hopes to become a professor. "I want to teach what I'm studying," she said.

Her toughest decision will be deciding where to go after school -- Buffalo is a big draw, partly because of her time with NeXt, Mehltretter said. "NeXt exposed me to so much of what Buffalo has to offer, and going away for four years made me appreciate this city so much more," she said.

TIFFANY LANKES, 24, now a fulltime reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, started writing for NeXt in 1996 as a sophomore at Sacred Heart Academy. She had been considering a career in journalism before that but "it was really that experience that sold me on it," she said.

During her three years with NeXt, Lankes wrote many profiles and trend stories. She further honed her skills at the prestigious Newhouse School of Communication at Syracuse University and through summer internships at the Niagara Gazette, The Buffalo News and the Florida Times-Union.

As a college student, she spent time in Israel and wrote a story for The News about young people serving in the Israeli military. "It always amazed me, how people would be so willing to open up to you and tell you their stories," she said.

JANET BOSSARD reviewed more than 70 movies for NeXt (winning an award for her review of "Chicken Run") before graduating from Olean High School in 2001 and heading off to major in cinema and photography at Ithaca College. "After two years of writing about films and trashing all of them, I thought maybe I should try making them," she said.

It was harder than she expected -- she laughs and says she wouldn't give her own thesis film a good review -- but she earned a spot as an intern at a Los Angeles filmmaking company and plans to return to Hollywood to work in film editing.

ANNA BRADY, 22, just started medical school at Case Western Reserve University, but she hasn't forgotten about her two and a half years as a NeXt correspondent. "When I'm back in town for breaks, I'll flip through NeXt and see who's writing and what they're writing about," she said. Brady liked writing profiles of interesting people, like a professional fight choreographer and a teen who designed bead jewelry to sell at local galleries.

She graduated from Nardin Academy in 2001, but her interest in writing continued. She wrote columns for her college paper and hopes to continue freelancing, perhaps for the city magazine in Cleveland. "Writing was something that I could fit in with any career," she said.

YAN FANG graduated from Amherst High School and left for Harvard University about five years ago, but she's still holding on to her favorite NeXt T-shirt and good memories from her time as a correspondent when she wrote about fashion, teen magazines and the Backstreet Boys.

In the years since, she has finished history and literature degrees at Harvard, interned at Martha Stewart Weddings in New York (the summer that the scandal broke) and spent a summer with organic farmers in France. This fall, she will go to China, her birthplace, to study and work with urban planning and resource management programs. "I'm interested in city planning and ... revitalization programs," she said. "Since I've gone to college, I've definitely become really interested in the changes in downtown Buffalo."

When her year in China is up, Yan hopes to find a job in urban planning, but she hasn't given up on writing. She worked for several publications in college and said she'd like to keep freelancing, particularly if she can write about cities and how they work.

JASON TORREANO is another former correspondent pursuing a career in the field -- but in television, rather than print. "I'd like to get into TV reporting," he said. "I've always said that I want to be the next Peter Jennings."

Already he has several internships at TV stations under his belt. During an internship last spring with The McLaughlin Group in Washington, D.C., he got to meet his idols Tim Russert and Ted Koppel.

Before graduating from Starpoint in 2003, Torreano had interviewed stars like Jeri Ryan and Avril Lavigne for NeXt and tackled weighty issues like the cheating epidemic in high schools. "I've had a lot of opportunities, and I think NeXt has opened the doors for me a little," he said.

Once he finishes his communications degree at Brockport State College, he plans to start his career at a local TV station and hopes to work his way up to a national network news show. "I'm sure that I will have my fill of cats up trees and people shooting one another, but hopefully I'll be able to cover something a little more international in scope (eventually)," he said.

> Come celebrate!

NeXt readers and correspondents, past, present and future, and all friends of NeXt are invited, along with the general public to a NeXt 10th birthday party at the Albright Knox Art Gallery from 5 to 10 p.m. this Friday, Sept. 16. The party is this month's Gusto at the Gallery program offering free admission to the gallery.

A highlight will be performances by teen bands Fat Apple, Minkus and Pyrolixious, winners of a battle of the bands co-sponsored by NeXt and the Music Is Art Foundation.

Since this is the time of year when NeXt is recruiting new writers, the gallery program will offer opportunities for applicants to come up with a writing sample. (See application and details on Page 8.)

> Here's what's happening at the party:

5:30 p.m.: A photojournalism workshop with Buffalo News photographer Mark Mulville (Kids 11 and up)

6 p.m.: A book talk about favorite books, including Harry Potter and NeXt Book club and other titles, with librarian Gwen Kistner. (Kids 11 and up.)

6:45 p.m.: Band Pyrolixious of Kenmore West plays.

7 p.m.: Tours of the gallery exhibit.

7 p.m.: Cutting of the birthday cake.

7:30 p.m. "How to write a concert review" workshop

8 p.m.: Band Fat Apple of North Collins plays

8:45 p.m. Mock press conference with band.

9:15 p.m.: Band Minkus of Lancaster plays.

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