August 18, 1997 12:00 PM

WHAT DO TEENAGERS WANT, ANYWAY? What are their fears and aspirations? Whom do they admire? (And who turns them off?) These are perplexing questions, at least for those of us who have long since navigated our own passage through adolescence. As PEOPLE moves toward its 25th birthday in 1999, we have decided to meet those questions head-on. In February we’re adding a new member to our growing family: TEEN PEOPLE, a monthly magazine for and about teenagers.

The idea of adapting the PEOPLE mix of celebrities and human interest stories for a teenage audience has been brewing for years. As PEOPLE president Ann S. Moore explains, several factors made the time ripe for a launch. “PEOPLE is booming,” she says, pointing to the success of spinoffs WHO (our Australian edition), INSTYLE and PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL. And the teen population is projected to grow from 29 million in 1995 to 35 million in 2010. “It’s a huge window of opportunity to do something wonderful,” says Moore.

To take advantage of that opportunity, we approached Christina Ferrari, editor of the teen magazine YM. When asked to become editor of TEEN PEOPLE in January, “it took me about 10 seconds to say yes,” recalls Ferrari, 32. “I love the way PEOPLE brings celebrities down to an accessible level and takes ordinary people and makes them stars. It’s a perfect formula for teenagers.”

Ferrari, whose experience includes positions at Redbook, McCall’s, Self and Parenting, is creating a distinct editorial mix to set TEEN PEOPLE apart from existing publications. “I want to tell stories in a powerful, meaningful way that will really affect teenagers’ lives,” she says. “I want to entertain them, but I also want to show them positive influences and inspire them.”

Joining Ferrari at the head of the new venture is PEOPLE publisher Nora McAniff. “Our goal is to make TEEN PEOPLE the preeminent magazine of popular culture for teens,” she says. “Ultimately we want to be the same kind of ‘must’ read that PEOPLE is for its audience.”

That means going beyond celebrity coverage (though there will be plenty of that) and showcasing ordinary teens doing extraordinary things. It also means presenting compelling stories on the tough issues confronting many teens today, such as drugs, early pregnancy and eating disorders. “We’ll be using real kids, not models, in all our stories, including fashion,” says Ferrari. “All the problems with body image and eating disorders won’t go away until we start showing teenagers that other body types are acceptable and beautiful.”

TEEN PEOPLE will also feature sections already well-known to regular readers of PEOPLE, such as Star Tracks, Style Watch and Chatter; the magazine will have a major on-line presence, as well. To stay plugged in to teen thinking and trends, Ferrari plans to send her staff to visit high schools around the country, and to rely on a teen advisory board, as well as interns, to contribute ideas. “When we offer advice, it’s going to be other teens saying, ‘Hey, I had that problem. Here’s what I did,’ ” says Ferrari. “It’s all about letting teenagers know they’re not alone.”

We hope that’s reassuring to the young generation of readers who are about to be introduced to our newest publication.

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