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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Happy 6th Birthday, Neon Tommy

Will Federman |
February 6, 2015 | 10:41 a.m. PST


Six years ago, USC Annenberg’s first online-only, student-run publication launched. We are pretty sure this article on debt was our first story. We probably didn’t know about SEO back then and if we did, I would have totally yelled at that writer. Just kidding. Maybe.

It was a different world back in 2009. The first iPhone with an app store, the iPhone 3G, was less than a year old. Retina screens and iPads did not exist. The first Android phone was less than five months old. The number one movie in America during that time? He’s Just Not That Into You. (The very first Taken film was second.) The number one song on Billboard was “My Life Would Suck Without You” by Kelly Clarkson. These were dark times.

And like a beacon in the night, we led people out of the pop-culture abyss into a brave new world of Angry Birds, total Beyoncé dominance and more Taken movies. We were there for you, America.

So why celebrate our sixth birthday? Well, we’re pretty terrible at celebrating any of our birthdays. I wasn’t even aware it was our sixth birthday until local historian, Max Schwartz, discovered it using sorcerery and/or memory.

But Neon Tommy deserves to be celebrated. We’ve have been nominated for, and won, numerous SPJ and L.A. Press Club awards. Alumni have gone off to pursue careers at The Los Angeles Times, Yahoo, The Atlantic, Voice of San Diego, etc. Millions of people read our content every year. We should be proud of how we got from the first user to the next 15 million.

Less than one year after Neon Tommy launched, it was Callie Schweitzer who finally gave us an identity, with a fantastic performance on KCRW’s “Which Way, L.A.?” about our incredible reporting on the Swine Flu. Yeah, we were going to write about silly millennial stuff, but we also had some damn good reporters who were not afraid to challenge authority. It should be no surprise Callie is now the editorial director of audience strategy for TIME and all of Time Inc.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention that none of us would be here without the guidance of both retiring director (and New York Times editor Dean Baquet’s favorite a--hole) Marc Cooper and current director Alan Mittelstaedt.

In the year 2015, Neon Tommy is experiencing a period of remarkable transition, as we converge with our media partners at ATVN and ARN. But our commitment to the kind of journalism that promotes empathy and challenges conventional wisdom has never been stronger. Yes, we still dabble in the fun stuff too. We’re an eclectic, but talented lot. But our staff will also question authority when it needs to. We’ve done it for six years now.

And if that isn’t worth a grown-up pizza party, I don’t know what it is.

Reach Editor-in-Chief Will Federman here. And follow him on Twitter.



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