USC’s Neon Tommy Shows Journalism 2.0’s True Colors

Neon Tommy is an online news outlet built atop public service more than staff pay, “stories that nobody has heard before” more than parroting headlines of the day, and possessing “a certain blue-collar sensibility” wedded blissfully with new media’s rough-and-tumble gung-ho.

The USC news site is the new flagship enterprise of the larger Annenberg Digital News.  It is run by undergraduate and graduate students, advised by faculty, and supported by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  In a recent post, Truthdig’s Bill Boyarsky profiles the upstart outlet, noting:

The name Neon Tommy is derived from Tommy Trojan, a campus symbol, and neon, a retro kind of word that invokes the days of neon lights, Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in “His Girl Friday” and newsboys screaming “Extra!” The evocation of an earlier era is perfect, for Neon Tommy combines the best in the new multimedia journalism with intensive reporting, clear writing and speed in stories on politics, government, culture, sports and whatever else interests its staff. It also recalls a touch of “The Front Page,” the old newspaper play upon which the film “His Girl Friday” was based.

Like other student outlets in California, Neon Tommy‘s most prominent exploit this semester was its nonstop, comprehensive, multimediated coverage of the statewide public education funding crisis protests.  As Boyarsky writes, staffers subsequently mounted a care-to-comment-about-higher-ed phone-athon aimed at potential California gubernatorial candidates, without reply.  “Neon Tommy called almost every day for a month, each time posting their frustrating result,” according to Boyarsky. “Finally, [the outlet’s executive editor Callie Schweitzer] wrote, ‘The lack of response on such a hot button issue is truly appalling. It is proof that putting pressure on politicians for 30 days is to no avail. If the media cannot get answers from the political elite, what are voters to expect?'”

Separately, Schweitzer’s most inspiring quote, about her determination to continue as a journalist in the topsy-turvydom of the current j-climate: “Yes, there will always be obstacles. That is in every facet of your life, in your job, your personal life, your health. Obstacles are just things you overcome with the help of friends, family and co-workers.” Or as she says at the start: “Nothing is going to stop me.”

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