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Look who's turning 5! CultureMap celebrates a media milestone, looks back at a tiny beginning

Look who's turning 5! CultureMap celebrates a milestone, looks back

CultureMap staff in first office on Tangley
It was a tight squeeze as CultureMap took a running start in our first office on Tangley. Courtesy photo
News_CM Launch Dec. 2009_Edward Sanchez
Edward Sanchez snares one of the glittering CultureMap caps at the West Ave launch party in 2009. Photo by Anthony Rathbun
News_CM Launch Dec. 2009_outdoors
Our launch party in December 2009 was a rocking success.  Photo by Bill Olive
Events_Lucky Strike_Halloween 09_CultureMappers
CultureMappers costumed up for the Lucky Strike Halloween bowling bash. BIll Olive
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First official staff photo by Julie Soefer. Back row standing from left, Rachel Hanley, Caroline (Gallay) May and Sarah Rufca. Seated, from left, Barbara Kuntz, Clifford Pugh, Shelby Hodge and Nic Phillips. Julie Soefer
CultureMap staff in first office on Tangley
News_CM Launch Dec. 2009_Edward Sanchez
News_CM Launch Dec. 2009_outdoors
Events_Lucky Strike_Halloween 09_CultureMappers
News_CultureMap_staff photo_THIS

When CultureMap launched in Houston in the fall 2009, our entire staff fit into a room about the size of a closet in a low-slung office building near Rice Village. There was only one long table that took up most of the room and we huddled around it with our laptops, knee-to-knee, clicking away.

Though we were small and unknown, we were excited at the prospect of creating something new and different in the media world. We set out to design a lifestyle website bringing the latest, up-to-the-minute scoop on society, food, fashion, sports, the arts, city life and real estate on an around-the-clock basis to a public hungry for information. We wanted to sort through the clutter and offer a place for lively, intelligent discussion.

At a time when smartphones were not quite as prevalent, the home page featured a big map of Houston, known as a "mapazine," with nine stories of the day geo-sourced to a pinpointed location, so readers could easily determine the place when clicking onto an article.

 Our definition of "culture" has always been broad, ranging from fine arts and fine dining to the latest drama on local and national celebrities that dominate conversation, along with debates on hot-button issues.  

The big map is long gone, but we think our mission has remained the same: To be first, fast and foremost with highlights — along with occasional lowlights — about Houston and the world.

Our definition of "culture" has always been broad, ranging from fine arts and fine dining to the latest gossip about local and national celebrities that dominate conversation, along with debates on such hot-button issues as what to do with the Astrodome and Jeremy Lin's role with the Houston Rockets to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Just about anything Houstonians are talking about is fair game.

As we have expanded to new cities (Austin in 2011 and Dallas in 2012 so far), we've taken on a larger focus, but we've strived to hold onto what we wanted to be from the beginning: A publication that explains our sense of place — and have a good time doing it.

Social happenings have always been popular CultureMap offerings — with CultureMap editor-at-large Shelby Hodge's coverage, that's a given — but, over the past five years interest has zoomed in other areas, including restaurants and bars with staff writer Eric Sandler breaking scoops on the local dining scene; real estate, where contributor Ralph Bivins and staffer Barbara Kuntz look at the latest trends and homes for sale; and sports, where CultureMap network news director Chris Baldwin regularly entertains and infuriates readers with his strong opinions on the Texans, Rockets and Astros.  Joel Luks' arts coverage and amazing videos also have a strong following.

When we launched, we bragged in a press release that our photos dwarfed the competition with "their massive 800 x 600 size, as opposed to the standard 300 pixels offered by competitors." Now, our standard is twice that size. Our home page was designed to make it easy to read, with the size slimmed down to be more readable on a mobile device, and another makeover is on the way. One thing we've learned is you can't stand still in today's rapidly changing media world.

We may be only 5, but we like to think we're advanced for our age.

While we will always anticipate the future, we think it's OK to look back and have some fun reminiscing a bit about our exploits and occasional foibles over the last five years.

So over the next five weeks, leading up to our fifth birthday celebration on Oct. 10 (tickets are available here) at the new JW Marriott Downtown Houston, we will revisit the best — and worst — of CultureMap's past on these pages. Among the topics we will look at are our Five Best Stories Of All Time, our Five Best Celebrity Encounters, Five Top Restaurant Openings and Unexpected Closings, Five Best Ballgowns, Five Most Controversial Stories — well, you get the idea. 

As always, we welcome your suggestions for ways to look at our last five years, along with comments about anything and everything. Some of you have never been shy about vehemently disagreeing with us, and while the pointed barbs sometimes hurt, we've learned a lot from what you've had to say.

When we launched CultureMap in 2009,  I wrote that “the format offers a medium to exchange ideas about arts, food, fashion and so forth. We hope to reach those people who are not only intellectually curious, but those who really want to know what’s happening.”

That remains our goal as we look to the next five years — and beyond.