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Teen Titan

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Nicole Cullen, 17, works for 110 Degrees, a slick magazine which "presents an alternative Tucson, from a youth perspective," according to managing editor Kimi Eisele. The mag is a project of Voices, Inc., a local nonprofit organization that's been training teens to document community stories for the past five years. Cullen, who will be beginning her senior year at Tucson High in August, is one of 20 teenagers hired from across the city who work from October to May. After learning the basics of documentary writing and photography, the students decide on their own story ideas. The current issue includes stories on growing up in a Tucson trailer park, being a teen parent and traveling every day from the Tohono O'odham reservation to high school in Tucson. The organization will be hosting a release party 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday, June 5, at the Muse Center for the Arts, 516 N. Fifth Ave.

How'd you get involved in the magazine?

They came to my school and talked to my photography class. They did a presentation about what they do and how it works. I was already in photography, and I love to write, and it sounded like a great opportunity, so I went down to the office and applied and I got a job. This is my second year on the magazine.

What did you write about in this issue?

I wrote about downtown, the misperceptions of youth downtown, the stereotypes and how people feel about youth downtown.

What did you discover about how people feel about youth downtown?

I discovered that the people who work downtown on a daily basis and have shops downtown feel that youth are an important part of downtown. However, when youth are in a group at the Ronstadt Center or just congregating somewhere, people are concerned, because they think it's gang activity for whatever reason, or they're afraid something's going to happen because there are so many youth.

How many people work on this publication?

This year, 20.

And these are all high-school students?

Yeah. We work on it from October to May.

Who are you working with on this?

We work with mentors and editors, professional writers and photographers, and they help us to better our skills and give us ideas how to better our stories, right down to the grammar and punctuation and even what sounds better and what doesn't, how to take a picture, where you should be when you take it, the lighting, etc. We all come together and help one another, but at the same time, we're writing our own stories.

How often do you guys meet when you're putting this together?

We meet four days a week, for two hours at a time or more.

So it's a pretty serious commitment in terms of a regular schedule.

We also get paid for it. It's a job. We make minimum wage. It's an intense job and an amazing opportunity.

It seemed like there was some pretty powerful stuff, especially about teen parents.

I think the strong points are the teen parents--there's a male and female version of that. Kate Thompson wrote a piece on depression and also identity loss through drugs. I thought that was pretty strong. The Fox Theater piece was really good. It has a lot of oral history.

You'll be a senior next year. Are you going to try to work on it next fall?

Definitely. It's a family, it really is. We're all off of work, and I went in there yesterday, and half of the 20 kids are just in there hanging out. It's just a real big family and we get closer and closer by the day. It's just a real good place to be at.

Sounds like you're ready to start the next issue already.

Yeah.

What do you hope to do after high school?

I'm going to go to college.

What are you going to study?

I honestly don't know. From doing issues, it's sparked some interest in where I want to go.

Do you think journalism is something you're interested in?

I don't know, to be honest with you. The way that we write is really different from journalism today. We pretty much go out and find the stories that no one's hearing. Even though it's really youth-oriented, people also wrote about where they live, their neighborhoods, trailer parks, so I think it's a different perspective and I really like it. I think it's really different from journalism I see today.

Any last words?

It's an amazing experience. There's really no words to describe it. You just learn so much, not only as a writer and photographer but as a person.

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