Month: July 2017


The Birth of NSFWCORP, Part VIII: Jamses

Matthew Dupuy, Andrew Mueller, James Kotecki, Leo Whetter: The two weeks around July 17th 2012 saw all of them make their NSFWCORP debut. Some, like James Kotecki, would become regular fixtures on the site. Others… wouldn’t.

I obviously had a good feeling about James, who became “famous” as a college student when he conducted interviews with presidential candidates in his dorm room and by 2012 was hosting a video show on The Daily (Murdoch’s ill-fated tablet tabloid) — because I invited him to come on the July 16th episode of NSFWLIVE to talk about his first piece, “Quit Like Mitt”…

Dear Readers,

First of all, thank you for welcoming me so warmly to the Not Safe For Work Corporation.

Secondly, I hereby announce my future retirement from the Not Safe for Work Corporation, effective today. Be assured I will continue to write articles for this publication and to otherwise discharge all of my duties as a proud member of the NSFWCORP family. But if anyone asks, I was never really here. Furthermore: who are you people? I’ve never seen you before (or since) in my life.

If the above sounds disingenuous at best, fraudulent at worst, please know that it isn’t. In 2002, Bain Capital CEO Mitt Romney retired retroactively from that company, with a stated departure date of February 1999. Romney was thus absolved of responsibility for Bain’s alleged outsourcing practices during the intervening period.

Neat.

With my resignation, I’m pushing the Mitt-velope still further. By announcing my retroactive departure date right off the bat, I’m automatically absolved of everything I do here, including all of the pieces I’m about to write. Pieces like:

  • “Abstinence is FABstinence”
  • “Why I Love ‘Muskrat Love’: The Unironic Truth”
  • “Me and My Hangnail”
  • “This Article Was Outsourced to Cambodian Laborers (Please Pay Us This Time)”
  • “Is America’s Love Affair With Ceilings Finally Over?”

Despite what my byline and financial records may indicate, legally I will be no more responsible for these travesties of journalism than the Republican presumptive presidential nominee is culpable for Bain Capital’s alleged outsourcing of tens of thousands of American jobs to Australia, Asia and Europe.

In a curious twist, Factcheck.org has investigated the outsourcing claims, subsequently repeated by the Obama campaign, and has found no evidence to support them. It appears, then, that Mitt Romney is actually trying to retroactively avoid responsibility for things his company (not his company) did not do while he was running (not running) it. Similarly, my retroactive retirement renders me blameless for the following soon-to-be-widely-reported NSFWCORP scandals of which Factcheck.org will also hopefully be unable to find supporting evidence…

  • Shirtless Thursdays
  • The Cryogenic Incarceration and Accidental Thawing of Editor-in-Chief Paul Carr
  • Goat -gate
  • Talk Like a Xenophobic Muppet Day

Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity. I am extremely excited to join NSFWCORP and simultaneously to avoid all accountability for my actions.

Sincerely,

James Kotecki

Not Safe For Work Corporation 2012 – 2012

PS: For the avoidance of doubt, this resignation letter was absolutely not written by any sweatshop Cambodians. But if it were, NSFWCORP should probably consider giving them a significant raise, lest they decide to tip off Romenesko as to their plight. “I” am just saying.

You can read a transcript of the episode here, or listen to the whole thing below.

The following night we were joined by another James, James Aylett to talk about the imminent London Olympics….

Reading back the transcript of that show, I’m reminded that it rained in Vegas that week. In fact there were particularly exciting lightning storms…

Josh: Yeah. It’s been raining a little bit. It’s mostly just been surly and threatening to rain.

Paul: On Sunday night there was an amazing lightning storm. It was great to see. I was enjoying watching the helicopters still flying around in the lightning waiting for one of them to be dead.

Josh: Yeah. This doesn’t seem like a real good idea.

Paul: It seems like a terrible idea. I don’t understand in any way electricity and lightning or whatever else. All I know is if I rode a helicopter I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a lightning storm.

Josh: Yeah. That sounds to me, at this advanced stage in my life …

Paul: There are tall buildings here. So they were quite low down. They flew over the building we’re in, one of them, and there was lightning going on. I thought, “Any minute now it’s coming through the window.”

Then on July 20th, right after I’d hopped on yet another plane for yet another meeting in San Francisco, we had our first experience in covering actually breaking (and horrific) news. The morning of July 20th 2012 was the day when a man the world would later know to be James Holmes walked into a Colorado movie theater and started shooting. A few hours later, Jason Heller – live from his home in Colorado – filed a piece that began thus…

Denver is a killer city.

If only it weren’t so. Most cities with penchants for murder at least have the decency to indulge in that bloodlust in a systematic, incremental way. You know, a homeless guy here, an unfaithful girlfriend there.

Denver binges.

This morning at 12:39, a man dressed in black and wearing a gasmask entered a movie theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.” He threw canisters that began to smoke, which some eyewitnesses say they thought was a joke or a publicity stunt.

But it wasn’t a joke, or a Joker. It was sick craven worthless fuck who pulled out a gun and started shooting into the audience.

As of this writing, 12 are confirmed dead. Dozens more have been injured. Seeing as how the film just opened, the theater was packed. There were children in attendance. Some of them dressed as Batman.

You know. Batman. The guy who, as a boy, sees his parents shot and killed in front of him.

It’s safe to assume that any kids who may have witnessed their parent’s death this morning will not grow up to be superheroes. They will not deal with their trauma by putting on a mask and living in a cave.

Or maybe, in their own way, they will.

“The Dark Knight Rises” — indeed, all of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy — is about a city living in fear. What does fear do to us? What does it engender? How is it personified? That city is supposed to be Gotham.

Now it is Denver.

Again.

Denver has been here before. Thirteen years ago, two students at Columbine High School in the nearby suburb of Littleton performed a similar act of sick-craven-worthless-fuck-ism. This morning, I watched Denver’s TV news crews attempt to gather information and make sense of the aftermath. Distraught and exhausted, they did (and are doing) a valiant job. After all, they have experience at this sort of thing.

I make fun of these news crews all the time. Hell, I make fun of Denver all the time. I’ve lived here for almost 30 years, yet I sometimes feel like an outsider. As the product of bitter, cynical, blue-collar New England stock, this sunny, cheery, prosperous mountain town makes me itch.

But I stay here, for a reason. Honestly, it’s a beautiful city. Denverites are among the warmest, most generous, and least pretentious you will ever meet. Believe it or not, it even has a relatively low murder rate.

Later in the day, from my hotel room in San Francisco, as I watched the coverage unfold, I wrote this, my first “real” piece for NSFWCORP

The visual grammar of covering domestic mass-murder is well-established: blonde lady at a desk, authentic-reporter-looking correspondents on the ground, shaken witnesses giving sobbing testimony. Professional reporters and amateur sources, with the former tasked with making sense of the latter.

But not this time. This time, something jarred.

It took watching two or three interviews, with different young witnesses, to realize what the hell was going on. The slickness, the sound bites, the neat closing summary: These people weren’t describing the tragedy, they were reviewing it.

(You can read the whole thing here)

Then on the July 23rd episode of NSFWLIVE (transcript), Jason joined Josh and I to talk more about his piece and Denver’s reaction to the shooting…

Colorado does have the death penalty. It’s interesting, though. On Saturday, I was watching the local news. This isn’t something that you’ve seen on the national news. There was a local newscaster speaking to a local attorney being interviewed about what might come in this case against James Holmes. This attorney was pretty gleefully talking about, “Oh, yes! We absolutely do have the death penalty. This is obviously the type of case that the death penalty would be sought on something like this.”

The thing is, we have not executed anyone in Colorado since 1997, and it’s the only execution that has happened in the State of Colorado since the ’70s, when the death penalty was re-instituted in the state. We’re not like Texas. Here in Colorado, it’s not something that’s done in the dozens at wholesale.

It’s actually going to be very interesting to see how this plays out legally. I really don’t see how they’re not going to push for the death penalty.

Looking back now, apart from being reminded at how powerful Jason’s writing on the subject was, I also see foreshadowing of a later version of NSFWCORP: The Ames-Levine-Dolan era when for days on end we’d drop any semblance of jokes in favor of devastatingly great writing about unimaginably horrific subjects. I guess it was always there, under the surface — but it’s jarring to see it now alongside the much more deliberately funny material from Kotecki and others.


The Birth of NSFWCORP, Part VII: July 9th 2012 – 16th 2012

July 9th 2012 – 16th 2012

539.

That’s now many people signed up for paid NSFWCORP subscribers in the first week we were open for business. Given more than 2000 people already had six month sponsored subscriptions that number delighted us. 500 people were willing to trust $3 a month (we had no annual plan) to our weird little comedy magazine. 10% of the 5000 subscribers we needed to be profitable.

It’s impossible to say how much of that initial success was down to the official arrival of Leigh Cowart as a NSFWCORP contributor a few days ealier. Leigh’s first piece was entitled “New Study Finds Breast Size Linked To Bounciness…”

Their findings, which surely must have come as a shock to all involved, concluded that the motion of bare breasts increased significantly with regard to cup size. That’s right, big ole’ ripe-for-motorboatin’ honkers bounce more than those naughty little alt grrrl tits you can fit in your mouth. The study also found that science can effectively predict just how bouncy that naked titty would be based on the overall size of said bosom.

In a tragic twist, this comes more than a decade too late for the seminal bouncy boobie television drama, “Baywatch,” which would have undoubtedly benefited from the knowledge that larger and totally bare mammaries would have more effectively created the dynamic breast kinematics that served as the riveting plot line of each and every episode.

It’s a wonder it took us so long to appoint Leigh our Sex and Science Editor.

July 9th also saw the return of NSFWLIVE. And I quote…

Announcer: It’s Monday, July 9th, 2012, and you’re listening to NSFW Live with Paul Carr.

Paul Carr: We’ve been away a long time, Josh.

Josh: I don’t even remember how this Internet radio thing works.

Paul: [laughs] Fortunately, the rules are still being written, so no one does.

Josh: By the way, I think we need to come up with a really cool … like a personality thing, like on-air personalities. Like radio shows, like morning shows, we can be like P. Carr and the Weasel.

Paul: Dingo and the baby.

Josh: Dingo and the baby. Yeah, exactly. We need to come up with something …

Paul: Sound effects.

Josh: Yeah, really … [laughs] yeah.

Paul: I love that we’re rehashing a “Family Guy” joke at the top of our first proper show. This is great. This is starting really well. We’ll be onto “The Simpsons” by next week, and then quoting Oscar Wilde. All right. So yes, we’re back. This is the first post-launch episode of “Not Safe for Work Live.” This is really exciting.

The July 9th Episode also marked the first NSFWLIVE appearance of Senior Editor Mark Ames…

Transcript

Transcript

Btw, for all the writers we were hiring and the guests calling in to the show, at this point the NSFWCORP office still consisted on me and sometimes Josh (above) and Rosalie. We’d tape the NSFWLIVE shows in the afternoon and then josh would head home to edit them in his home studio for upload early the next morning. NSFWCORP’s news room was still confined to a Yammer account, where writers exchanged jokes, pitches stories and generally went about the business of journalism. At the time I saw no reason why everyone had to be in the same physical space.

That, of course, was just one of the many things I was wrong about.

In the middle of all this madness – July 13th 2012 – I had to get on another fucking plane, this time to LA, for the Elon Musk Pando Monthly. During that trip Sarah and I taped an in-person WITN in which I explained how we ended up using Stripe for our payments. File this under “things I had completely forgotten about NSFWCORP”: As I explain in the video, we built the beta version of our site with Paypal with the intention of moving to Braintree for launch. But during the launch, Sarah suggested we look at Stripe which seemed absolutely too good to be true. Three days later Josh had rebuilt the entire payment system using Stripe, describing it as “the most developer friendly API” he had ever seen.

(The video also reminded me that in the run up to our launch I also had another gigantic distraction: Half of my friends from London descended on Vegas for a seven day party. I was able to attend maybe two of those days, during which the Hard Rock Hotel attempted to charge more $40,000 to my credit card for two diet cokes. Turns out the waitress had tried to enter the card manually but had put part of the card number into the “amount” box.)


The Birth of NSFWCORP, Part VI: It’s Alive!

The pilot issue, published in May 2012, featured contributions from Mark Ames (“You Can’t Handle The Truth”), Jason Heller (“On A Raft With Taft”), Patrick Sauer (“This Is Why They Hate Us”), Sarah Bee and James Aylett (“That We Know Of”) and Nathan Pensky (“Walt Disney’s Head”), illustrations by Molly Crabapple, Hallie Bateman, PJ Perez, Molly Choma and the first ever appearance in NSFWCORP by Brad Jonas…

Most of the articles aren’t online, annoyingly, but there’s an ebook of the whole thing on Amazon.

The response to the pilot was, thank goodness, very positive – both from readers and investors. Mike Arrington sent a nice email (“this is awesome”), as did Tony Hsieh.

And yet. Amongst the positive feedback was plenty of helpful, critical stuff: Pleas for more jokes, an easier to use interface, that kind of stuff. The joke feedback struck a particular chord with me: The writing in the pilot was tremendous, but the overall package still lacked – something. There was nothing that made me think holy shit, I can’t believe I just read that in the way that reading old issues of Spy or Private Eye still does. To be clear: This was entirely on me. The writers and illustrators did exactly what I asked, and in many cases far more so. Thinking back now, I think all the money we had in the bank made me lose my nerve.

So next the real work began: Hiring more writers, tweaking our editorial tone, rebuilding and redesigning our app from the ground up, ensuring we had a viable business model — that kind of thing. But also — finding my own courage, and enabling the courage of our writers, to be funnier, angrier and just plain voicier than in the pilot.

To keep the editorial momentum going while I figured all that out, we continued to publish articles behind the password wall (hidden from subscribers). The idea was that, once NSFWCORP went fully live, we’d have an archive packed with fun stuff like Jason’s Hbo Makes A Star Of George W. Bush’s Decapitated Head and Mark’s Chen Guang Cheng Needs A Makeover . June 26th saw the first appearance of Hallie’s brother, Ben Bateman on NSFWCORP with Tennessee Legislates Against ‘gateway Sexual Behavior’.   

All in all, we published 17 hidden pieces on NSFWCORP in the two months between the pilot and our official launch. You can read them all in the archive. Hopefully you’ll notice the pieces getting steadily funnier and more NSFWCORPy as time progresses. Meanwhile Josh and Roger hustled to build v2 of  NSFWCORP as I hustled to raise more money to keep the wheels on the whole thing.

Fortunately Tony was suitably impressed with the pilot that he agreed to invest an additional (I think) $300k in NSFWCORP (I’m trying to find the term sheet so I can confirm how much, and the dates). What I know for sure is we announced the new round on July 4th. Now NSFWCORP was a real, fully funded company we could actually launch the fucking thing for year.

And so on July 4th 2012, NSFWCORP officially launched and we started letting the sponsored beta subscribers in for real…

 

From: Paul Carr<hello@nsfwcorp.com>
Date: Fri, Jul 6, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Subject: NSFW Corp has launched. You’re in.
To:

Well hello there,

Just a quick note to let you know that Not Safe For Work Corporation
has *finally* launched, and your subscription has been activated.
Huzzah!

You can log in at http://www.nsfwcorp.com using your email address and
the password you entered when you signed up. If you’ve forgotten your
password, there’s a handy reminder link on the front page.

Feedback very welcome, either by email (lettersdesk@nsfwcorp.com) or
http://www.twitter.com/nsfwcorp

Welcome to the future of journalism (with jokes).

Paul

Paul Carr

Editor in Chief, NSFW Corp

 

Here’s the editorial letter I wrote on NSFWCORP, announcing the launch. You’ll note from the opening line that I had found some of my missing courage.

Friends, Romans, Cunts.

So here we go, then, the public launch of Not Safe For Work Corporation. This is the moment when all of our work over the past six months or so comes to glorious fruition or humiliating anticlimax.

Given the transatlantic nature of our 17-strong (!) team, and the “without fear or favour” principles on which this plucky enterprise is founded, when better to launch than on Independence Day? Also, 4th July is the ultimate slow news day in America so unless the New York Times is caught plagiarizing from Playboy or Arianna eats Tim Armstrong, we should pretty much have the cycle to ourselves.

So here, then, are some useful notes to have in hand when the world’s media hacks inevitably beat a path to your door demanding answers about what we’re all doing here. Remember first and foremost: we only ever talk on the record – and “you own your words” as The Well used to say before they sold those same words to a succession of different owners.

The main note is that we don’t really have very much at all to say about what NSFW Corp stands for. Not because we’re dicks (although, to be clear … ). But rather because, as I wrote in the Pilot, we have no interest in making bold mission statements. Better instead to have an actual mission, and to let the fuckers figure out what that is. If they get persistent, just tell them we pay all of our writers. That’ll give them plenty to chew on.

Logistics: our daily publishing schedule begins today, and continues until the last of us is dead. NSFW Live resumes Monday, broadcasting from our sound-and-bullet-proof studio, high above the Las Vegas strip. Today we’re letting in everyone who signed up for the Pilot. From the end of next week, we’ll be admitting subscribers, by invitation. Once invited, everyone – EVERYONE –  pays $3 a month.

The email address for reader correspondence is lettersdesk@nsfwcorp.com, or @nsfwcorp on Twitter. Rosalie will read everything, and we’ll publish the best correspondence as Desk Notes. Subjects of Dispatches have an automatic right to reply. Everyone else: only if they’re funny or interesting.

The front page illustration was created by Hallie Bateman, who observed NSFW Corp HQ with the eye of a courtroom artist. The technology was built by Josh Ellis and the “look and feel” was designed by Roger Erik Tinch. Our editorial co-ordinator is Rosalie Miletich. Editor-at-Large is Mark Ames. Everyone else is credited as we go along.

The scribble dog doesn’t have a name yet. Suggestions welcome.

Okay. That’s it.

Onwards.

 

…and here’s how I explained the difference between the pilot and the final product to Sarah on WITN…

Finally, here’s how Sarah covered the launch on Pando…

As discussed on WITN earlier today, NSFW Corp has finally — FINALLY — launched. Go here now to subscribe. Paul won’t actually let you in for another week, but after that you can read all the NSFW you want. Really, this time.

What’s that you say? You don’t want to risk $3 on unseen content? Here’s a snippet of content by James Aylett about one of Paul’s favorite topics, Julian Assange:

Julian Assange is the diplomatic equivalent of syphilis. The Australians gave him to the Swedes. Then the Brits had him and, in all probability, the Americans will be next. For now, though, he has holed up in Ecuador’s embassy to the UK, presumably after reading a travel advisory from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office warning of an elevated risk of sexual assault in the South American country and thinking, “Oh yes, I’ll fit right in there.”One of Paul’s gripes with the pilot published some two months ago is that it wasn’t as acerbic, funny, or offensive as a typical day hanging out with him. After spending the last four years hanging out with Paul, and my morning reading NSFW, I can easily say mission pretty much accomplished this time around. The trick will be keeping it up.

I also have to say I love the design, the more I read. Once you figure out where to click (Hint: It’s not what appears to be the headline. It’s the text. Confusing, I know. I think it’s some kind of “cool” test. Don’t worry. I failed too.) the page swooshes and moves in nice but not overstated ways. Paul’s developer Josh Ellis rebuilt it from the ground up after the pilot, and he did a great job, along with designer Roger Erik Tinch. And — not surprisingly — I love the illustrations by our own Hallie Bateman.

She also published this Q&A, also with illustrations by Hallie…

Sarah: Why didn’t you raise more — are you one of those lean startup nut cases?

Paul: Yeah, I’m renowned for my financial prudence. No, the simple truth is we didn’t need more. Aside from some design and tech, our major outlay is the writing. (We pay every one of our writers, and I think pretty well.) Unlike hiring brilliant developers, hiring brilliant writers is a reasonably affordable proposition, providing you can find them in the first place. Also, I suppose I like the idea of pseudo bootstrapping the thing: Comedy publications with millions of dollars in the bank are very rarely funny, for some reason. Maybe it’s an underdog thing.

Sarah: How many subscribers do you have to sign up to make the economics work?

Paul: For the first year, none. After that, things go south pretty quickly unless we have at least 10,000. 50,000 would mean we can keep doing this thing for the rest of our natural lives. 100,000 and I’m selling to AOL and handing over the reins to a 12-year-old drunk.
Sarah: Why’d you raise so much from Vegas? Don’t most people go there to lose money?

Paul: It’s not really about taking money from Vegas, it’s about taking money from investors who aren’t scared off by the idea of a crazy Brit wanting to spend their money swearing at politicians and journalists. That’s a short list. It’s basically just Tony Hseih, CrunchFund and Judith Clegg.

That said, Tony was the first investor to encourage me to start the company, and to move to Vegas. Both turned out to be pretty good ideas. I love it here, and I love what’s happening with the regeneration of Downtown. I love the fact that you avoid all of the assumptions people make about a media company being based on the East Coast (or in London) or a tech company on the West Coast. Also: interesting people come to Vegas all the time — I want to have as many talented, funny people in the room at the same time as I can.

SO, given all of the above, when we decided to raise more money, Tony (and Vegas Tech Fund) was the obvious first call. He’s been a model investor: zero interest in influencing editorial, zero attempt at telling us what to do generally (apart from encouraging us to be in Vegas) and willing to offer — in our attorney’s words — “ridiculously generous terms.”

Sarah: How are things going with the whole Downtown Project generally?

Paul: From my point of view, fantastic. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now. The regeneration means there’s always something interesting — a bar, a concert hall, a startup — popping up. The people, as you know, are fascinating. There’s a real entrepreneurial spirit. As for the Downtown Project generally, you’d have to ask Tony but signs point to so-far-so-good. I’ve said before, his biggest challenge will be avoiding the whole thing becoming Zappos Town. Hopefully we can do our bit in helping with that.

Sarah: Back to NSFW — what parts of the original vision are still there; what’s gone?

Paul: The original vision: a paid subscription publication that talks about the week’s news, with jokes, is entirely intact. Most of the specifics have evolved through the pilot period though. For one thing, it’s not weekly any more — we realized (embarrassingly slowly) that grouping stuff together into a weekly package makes zero sense, no matter how much we’d like it to. Also, we’re not on the Apple Newsstand. I actually can’t believe I was willing to entertain the idea of giving anyone — let alone apple — an effective editorial veto on what we could publish. The 30 percent is fine, but the approval process is bullshit. We’re HTML5 all the way, even if the path to purchase is slightly more painful.

That said, we’re publishing our ebooks through Apple and Kindle and Nook because, well, that’s how people buy and read ebooks. Re: my point about editorial approval, we’re already embroiled in a fight with Amazon over our first title, so my HTML5 decision is looking good. On the content side, as I said in this week’s WITN, I realized that we pulled too many punches. I don’t know if it was fear stemming from having raised a bunch of money, or just he fact that I haven’t edited comedy for a while, but too much of the pilot wasn’t funny, it was “humorous”, which is the fucking worst. That’s entirely my fault, by the way. The writers did an amazing job (and they’re all still with us) — I just forced them into a box.

Sarah: Is this the last launch? Will it be published regularly from today on?

Paul: Yes.

Sarah: You love to joke about being a failed entrepreneur, but my sense is you have legitimately learned a lot of lessons from those failures that could help other entrepreneurs. Can you share some with us?

Paul: The number one lesson is to make sure that you are the best in the world at whatever your core offering is. I co-founded a print publishing house in 2005, despite having no experience with books back then (leaving my business partner to do all the heavy lifting). Then I created a social network, despite the fact I hate people. Other lessons: you can be a boss or you can be a drunk, you can’t be both. Trust your gut and retain as much control as you can. You’ll need it.

Sarah: You and I share a Messianic view about saving journalism. What are you trying to bring back that has been lost?

Paul: In the words of Monty Python (and possibly Kara Swisher), I’m not the messiah, I’m a very naughty boy. Yeah, I think we’re both trying to build companies that achieve the (some say) impossible feat of producing genuinely high quality editorial, produced by world-class writers and journalists who are being paid a respectable (maybe even generous) wage for their talents.

The two biggest things that NSFW Corp is trying to bring back are a satirical magazine that readers are excited (and a bit scared) to read every day/week/month (like I was with Private Eye in the UK of my youth, and I guess people had here with Spy) — and from a writer’s point of view, a place to call home. Somewhere where you can write your heart and soul and gut and know that your editor relishes the ensuing fight as much as you do. If this isn’t fun, we might as well kill ourselves, right?

For the first week the LIVE version of NSFWCORP was only available to beta subscribers. At the start of the second, we turned on our payments system for the first time.

In the next post I’ll tell you how many people actually signed up.

 

All photography (unless otherwise credited) by Molly Choma


The Birth of NSFWCORP, Part V: Pilot

The final writer for the pilot was Nathan Pensky – Pando’s managing editor – who pitched an amazing idea about Walt Disney’s frozen head. I also commissioned an illustration from Pando’s art director Hallie Bateman. We’d settled on the final name – NSFWCORP – and reverted back to Molly’s absolutely perfect logo…

Publication date of the pilot was set for the second week of May 2012.

The only thing missing was… readers. We already had a few thousand email addresses submitted through our holding page but no real way to convert them to paid subscribers. Given we didn’t know if we’d ever actually publish an issue one, let alone any more issues after that, I wasn’t willing to actually take money from the pilot readers but nor did I want to give the issue away for free and set that the precedent that NSFWCORP was free. So instead I hatched an (ahem) brilliant idea to get companies to pay $2k each to sponsor free subscriptions for several hundred people each.

By pilot day we had enough paid sponsors – Launch Rocket, Cloud Flare and some others I can’t  remember – to allow 2,000 readers through the door.

There were just one thing left to do before hitting publish on the pilot: Make sure we could actually publish this thing. And so the last few days of April / first days of May 2012 was designated our dress rehearsal week. For that entire week we published the pilot issue as if it were a live issue: Every day, behind a password wall, we published a single written piece and the accompanying audio episode. By this point we’d decided that’s how NSFWCORP would work: One piece a day, building up to an entire themed issue by the end of the week. Via our Yammer/Basecamp discussion platform I also commissioned new last minute topic pieces just to ensure the thing was as up to date as possible.

Sarah, Eli and I talked about the process on WITN which also included the world’s first public preview of a tiny corner of NSFWCORP…

During that same week, we finally fired up our recording studio and produced the first five episodes of NSFWLIVE, which Josh providing the voiceover and also serving as co-host. The very first episode featured special guest Patrick Sauer.

Here’s the other four episodes…

(Note, for the pilot, the episodes weren’t actually broadcast live. In fact we wouldn’t figure out that technology until months into NSFWCORP’s regular publishing schedule.)

A week later, on the night before pilot publication, I recorded this Skype video with Sarah to give the world a sneak preview…

Finally, on May 7th 2012, the pilot issue of NSFWCORP went live, with the caveat that “it should not be considered representative of the actual Not Safe For Work Corporation which, at the time of writing, is preparing to launch its regular publishing schedule. It is what it is.”

And so it was what it was.


The Birth of NSFWCORP, Part IV: Mark

The second week of April 2012 will go down in history as the week we acquired two things that would stick with NSFWCORP to the very end (and beyond). The first was a pool table, which I boughtfor $500 from a guy who was moving out from the Odgen and spent a week trying to figure out how to move nine floors to apartment 804.

The second thing we acquired that week was Mark Ames. Here’s how Mark remembers that week…

Paul: I want to go back to when you first heard about Not Safe For Work. I think, certainly, I first got introduced to you by Richard Nash, who had published you before.

Mark: Richard Nash published my last book, Going Postal, which is about office and school rage massacres, which is sort of a new American phenomena, a very fun subject. I love Richard because, not only was he a fantastic editor, but I first started on that project in 2001. I moved to Kentucky, I left Russia for the while. I started on it because I thought it was a huge thing, Columbine and all this stuff was a big deal, these rage massacres.

My editor at Grove Atlantic liked the idea a lot. My agent at William Morris at the time really liked it. Then 9/11 happened just as I was putting together my proposal for the publishers. 9/11 happened, and nobody wanted to hear about…

Paul: [laughs]

Mark: Americans killing Americans any more. I was like, “Is that real?” I was like, “Oh, shit.” I moved back to Russia and I had this proposal sitting around. I tried to push it again like a year or two later. It got angrily rejected, boom, boom, boom, one after another.

Paul: [laughs]

Mark: Then Richard Nash went, “I like this.”

Paul: I don’t care about Americans killing Americans. I’m Irish!

Mark: Exactly. I mean, that was the thing. I think being an outsider, he wasn’t as tied to the moment, deeply offended, kind of a little bit of distance. Myself too, I’d been living overseas for so long, you kind of start seeing the culture and the country a little bit as an outsider rather than an insider.

He was a great editor. One day, this was in 2012, late spring I think, 2012, just when I was going through a very…life disruption.

Paul: [laughs]

Mark: I’d rather not get into that, but it was not a particularly good time in my life. This is like that scene in the movie where the champ, except I was never a champ, gets an offer when he’s drunk and living in a card board boxes, that’s how I looked at it.

I got this email from Richard introducing me to you and saying, “This guy is starting up his satirical magazine and he was looking for satire writers and you’re the first person I thought of, actually, because there’s not a lot of satirical writers in this country.”

Paul: I’ve asked him to recommend someone, and he basically said the same thing. He said, “There aren’t, really. Everyone’s awful.” God, I know, we could have hired Alex Pareene. It was that bad.

[laughter]

Mark: They’re like joke tellers or quippers or something, they’re not people with satirical sensibility.

Paul: They don’t have any real anger, they have this fake Internet outrage.

Mark: He told me that you were starting this up. We got in touch. I have to admit, I didn’t believe it. I’m like, “No, this is too…” Maybe he is, but he is like a bunch of other people that would start something up and going to want me to do something. Then never really pay me or offer me 25 bucks and reputational currency.

Paul: Were you writing for Punch at that time or whatever it’s called, The Punch?

Mark: Yes, at that time, Punch. Somebody had bought the rights to an old British Punch magazine and it was making it as an iPad only magazine app.

Paul: Just as the original Punch founders intended.

[laughter]

Mark: At that same time, they asked me to write the first feature story for the new American iPad app. I did something on a movie about Joseph Smith. It was a weird movie about Joseph Smith, who was obviously the founder of modern religion. This was when Romney was becoming a presidential candidate.

I wound up doing it. It was actually not bad a piece. I wound up getting to know the guy who made this movie. He’s like a dissonant Mormon, and part of a whole movement of a clean comedy. [laughs] It’s very weird stuff.

Paul: Now, it’s being headed by James [sp] Casseti?

Mark: Exactly. They had an office here and everything. I knew the editor, old friend of mine. I thought, that one’s going to be definitely viable, Paul Carr have never heard of them. There’s no fucking way…

Paul: I like that there was a decision between me and Marie Shawn. You went, “Marie Shawn sounds trustworthy to be around.”

Mark: I worked for Marie but Marie had already lost it.

Paul: That’s right.

Mark: This is really like Jim, who used to be an editor of Vanity Fair. We knew each other way back.

Paul: I feel that’s bad.

Mark: Marie had already lost it. God Bless Marie.

Paul: Quite so.

Mark: I tried doing both, actually. I did the Punch article, it’s actually a shit ton of work.

Literally for this iPad thing.

I remember why it was such a problem even getting out the first quote on quote issue, because it was almost actually…even though this is the future, the way they had to lay out page by page to make it all very interactive-y and punchy and so on, it was literally like what I did on my high school paper, where you cut and paste in. I don’t know, that was how the technology worked.

Paul: Yes, because it was a fixed screen. It was unreadable, I couldn’t…

Mark: You saw it? I didn’t even have it.

Paul: No, I had the wrong iPad. I had an iPad that wasn’t the exact specs you needed. Every time I tried to open your article in particular, it just crashed. It was like a cosmic joke.

Mark: I remember that was a big problem.

Paul: You were like, “You should take a look at it.” I’m like, “I can’t. I cannot read it.”

Mark: Finally I think they just put the piece out on Alternet, just basic.

Paul: Then, people could actually read it.

Mark: They could actually read it.

Paul: It’s the future.

Mark: To my surprise, I wrote something for you and I was brought in to the…was it Yammer, then?

Paul: Yes. It was Yammer.

Mark: It was Yammer discussions. I was surprised by everybody. First of all, most people seemed like they weren’t Americans. They seemed smart and funny.

Paul: That was basically because I hadn’t hired anyone. I guess everybody had the same thoughts as you had, of, “I don’t know, I don’t trust this thing.” I was still trying to hire Americans, but I knew a bunch of Brits who had written jokes for me before. I staffed it with them and thought, “I’ll just edge them out.”

Mark: I actually liked that, once I saw it. Richard spoke very well of you. I looked you up and saw you looked like an asshole and I thought, “OK, that’s the kind of guy I could work with.”

Paul: Before we get too far ahead, because I want to just mention on the record, Richard sent me an email, which I probably will publish in the book, where he basically said, “You should talk to this guy, Mark Ames. He’s one of the best writers I know. Definitely, he’s what you’re looking for. But just for your information, he’s fucking crazy.”

Mark: [laughs]

Paul: Then he sends a link to the Vanity Fair profile of you and Taibbi. I look at it, and I’m reading this thing about you stirring Adderall into your coffee or speed into your eyeballs or whatever the fuck was in that piece. I thought, “This is going to be interesting.”

I’m reading your stuff. I had heard of “The Exile,” but I hadn’t really pieced together that was you. Then, I read the Vanity Fair thing. It’s, “Yeah, I’m basically obviously hiring a serial killer, who can write. The challenge here will be to just keep him as far away from me as possible, so that he just writes great stuff, I pay him, and he doesn’t kill me.”

We met…I guess you’re in San Francisco for some reason, because we met in some coffee shop or some restaurant.

Mark: Yes.

Paul: We had lunch.

Mark: I came out at that time. I think Punch was already starting to fall apart by then. Fuck, why did I go out there? I think my wife kicked me out again or something.

Paul: For some reason. You were saying you were staying where you have family, or something. Maybe that was what it was.

Mark: Yes, I was staying down in the San Jose area with family, then going up to visit an old buddy of mine from Moscow who was in Marin County, yeah.

Paul: I remember having lunch thinking, “He’s hiding his serial killer really well. It’s like Patrick Bateman.”

Mark: [laughs]

Paul: It took me at least six months of working with you until I finally confronted Nash and was like, “What’s crazy? He’s obviously crazy like we’re all crazy, and angry like we’re all angry, but what am I missing? When’s he going to pull a knife on me?”

He’s like, “Oh, no, he’s not really that crazy.”

Mark: [laughs]

Paul: It’s like, “Fuck you. For six months…”

Mark: Sweating bullets.

Paul: “…Not wanting to turn my back on him in case he stuck a fucking knife between my shoulder blades. You’re like, ‘Oh, no, he’s crazy like we’re crazy.’”

Mark: [laughs]

Paul: I’m like, “Don’t say that in future.” Bear in mind, the baseline for me for crazy is so much higher.

If I was asking about you for a job at a fucking salon or something, then yes, you’re crazy. You’re not milquetoast, like those fuckers. You fit in perfectly well at Not Safe For Work. Even years on I’m still looking for this crazy that doesn’t meaningfully exist.

Mark: I’m a nice guy.

Paul: No, you’re a very nice guy. This is the thing. I remember when Sirota first came out to Vegas. I guess you weren’t in town.

Mark: No, I got sick or something.

Paul: That’s a man who was terrified about a lot of things, but he was genuinely terrified of meeting you. I remember thinking…

Mark: Damn, I wish I was there.

[laughter]

Paul: I know. He was really, “I’ve heard that he eats babies.”

Mark: [laughs]

Paul: I’m like, “Yes. You should watch out for that guy.”

Mark: Keep your baby away from him.

Paul: Anyway, I realized very quickly that you weren’t any bad kind of crazy.

Mark: Depends who you ask.

[laughter]

Paul: The same people would tell you that about me. Don’t worry. I’m trying to remember what the first piece you wrote for us was. It wasn’t the McFaul thing.

Mark: No, it was…I don’t know why I chose this subject, but it had to do with the whole Colonel Jessup mentality and everyone running around telling you, “You can’t handle the truth!” All these…

Paul: That was for the pilot issue.

Mark: …Hardened realists and stuff. What amazed me was, there’s very little outlet for satire here. In fact you really can’t do satire here. You can do very loudly telegraphed parody. Everyone here says, particularly in the business, let’s say, not the audience, says, “I love The Exile, I love satire,” but no one wants to run it. No one wants to do it. They’re all scared of it.

Paul: It’s just Charlie syndrome. “I am Charlie, but I wouldn’t do any of the things that they did, nor do I support any of the things they wrote, nor would I…”

Mark: Exactly. “I would attack you…”

Paul: “…Even acknowledge…”

Mark: “…If you did until you’re dead, and then I’ll be first at your graveside.”

Paul: “But I’m going to use this hashtag. But I do want the credit for acting like I’m a bad ass.”

Mark: Exactly. It took me a couple years to realize that. It turned out just the most effective way to fuck with power was actually doing more straight journalism. Which is all right, but I find it boring as a reader, in a way, too.

Basically, I was surprised, first of all, that I wrote it and you paid me. That’s pretty rare.

Paul: Those two things did happen.

Mark: I know.

Paul: Let the record show, you did write it and I did pay you.

Mark: That was a real serious big moment for me, though. Honest to God, when you said you would pay me x amount, and it was good pay, and “Deliver this,” and you liked it. Then you very coldly, which I also really appreciated…we did the first issue and you solicited audience responses, your own responses, our responses. You really polled everyone in a very properly cold, not ego-y way, and found out what people liked and the problems that people found with it. You confronted that right away. I was really impressed with that.

I just kept thinking, “Wait a minute.” I forgot that it could be done like this after having done The Exile all those years. It was almost too good to be true. I still didn’t really believe it was going to happen. It really took me a few months to really believe that it could happen.

Paul: This is actually a thing.

Mark: That you could be paid. I could believe that somebody could good taste and want to fuck with power and do satire and have a satirical outlook on things, but then I couldn’t match it up with somebody who was actually willing to pay for it rather than screw you over.

Paul: It helped that the whole initiative, our big investor was Tony Hsieh, who knew nothing about media and didn’t really understand what he was getting into. It helped that we had that. At that point, I think we only had a hundred thousand dollars with that, it’s not Omidyar money, by any stretch. Mike Arrington obviously put in like 25, I think.

We had $125,000. It wasn’t by any stretch, we had a lot of money, especially by media standards. But it did seem to me that if we were going to spend money, it should be on the stuff that’s on the page, because everything else doesn’t matter. We didn’t have a huge tech team.

It took me a while before we launched to realize that. I was talking to all these incredibly expensive New York publishing people. We’re sitting in Union Square. The coffee shop place that is over there, I met with about four or five people who are from things like “The New York Times” or worked at various Condé Nast publications, who are serious, big-P publisher people.

I remember one person who wanted to basically head up the commercial side. I was like, “I need a commercial person,” which, arguably ultimately we did need a good commercial person.

Mark: [laughs]

Paul: I remember this person saying, “I have kids in private school,” blah-blah-blah, and “I’m going to need to be making $350,000.” I’m like, “We don’t have that much money at all.” As in, “We don’t have it to pay you,” we don’t have it.

Mark: Is that satire, or is it…

Paul: No, sadly it was…I thought, “OK, I’ll hire that person. Then they’ll have nothing to sell.” Very quickly we were on the other way. It’s like, “Let’s just put as good of stuff on the page, get Josh Ellis to build a bare bones way of getting on the page.” But it never occurred to me that the writers shouldn’t be the best-paid. That was the thing.

It was too good to be true for some people. When I talked to Yasha, he brought this up. He said there was a moment when the initial Not Safe For Work tone changed. We were trying to figure out what it was. He said it was a moment when…because I think if you look at your Jessup piece, it could have been published at the beginning, the middle, or the end. You were the first, really, to identify, even before I did, what Not Safe For Work should be. But if you look at some of the other stuff we published around that time, it was jokey.

Sarah Lacy said not that long ago, “You’ve got to stop saying it was the future of journalism with jokes. It may have been the future of journalism, but there were no jokes, by the end.”

Mark: Definitely.


The Birth of NSFWCORP, Part III: October 2011 – April 2012: Laying the groundwork

Between my meeting with Tony on 18th September 2011, and the arrival of the first $125k checks around October 11th, I had already been hard at work trying to decide what NSFWCORP would actually be. The original pitch seemed so simple – the Economist with jokes. Because it was simple.

It’s faintly ridiculous, then, to look back at my notes for the months of October 2011 and April 2010 and recall how many times I pivoted and re-pivoted the idea before arriving back where I’d already started. Even now I feel terrible how many brainstorming sessions I forced Molly to ensure.

One thing I decided early is the publication would be tablet and e-reader only. No web edition and certainly no print. I’d been watching closely the progress of the Daily – News Corp’s attempt at a tabloid newspaper – and decided that, while their execution was shockingly bad, the idea of a tablet-only publication had merit.

On October 14th I wrote a post on my personal blog, explaining all the other things I’d decided…

In a nut, Not Safe For Work Corporation is a publishing company. In a slightly bigger nut, it’s a magazine publishing company. And in a nut that’s even bigger still, it’s a magazine publishing company specializing in creating wonderful publications for the Kindle, iPad and other tablets and e-reader devices.

A couple of months back, I wrote a post on TechCrunch entitled “Now Can We All Agree That The “High Quality Web Content” Experiment Has Failed?” In it, I talked about the numerous ways in which ad-supported, free-to-access online content has failed readers by elevating PR-driven SEO garbage high above real honest-to-goodness journalism.

But now, thanks to the Kindle, the iPad, the Nook et al, there is another way. Readers on those devices have proved themselves ready, willing and able to pay to read high quality writing. They pay to read the New Yorker on their iPad, they pay to read Byliner‘s long-form journalism on their Kindles. Partly this willingness comes from the fact that tablets and e-readers make reading enjoyable again, but an equal part of the economic viability of those platforms is the fact that there has never been an assumption that content on them would be free. And when writers and publishers are being paid, they do their best work.

But still, for all the potential that e-readers and tablets offer, what we’ve seen is a succession of existing media brands – Wired, Vanity Fair, the Economist – translating their print product on to tablets often with only a few DVD extras to differentiate them from their dead tree parents. The apps themselves are wonderful, but there’s nothing original or fresh about their content. The only significant publication designed from the ground up for tablets is Rupert Murdoch’s ‘The Daily’. But again, the lack of originality is remarkable, and sad — especially given how many talented writers and editors are involved. The Daily is a naked attempt to ensure the future of the traditional newspaper format by creating an iPad newspaper that reads just like any one of Newscorp’s countless print newspapers. Hell, the Daily even tries to break news. (Sorry Rupert, but the future of breaking news remains on free sites, on the Internet.)

For months I’ve been watching the baby steps of tablet-based magazine publishing and imagining what it would look like if a true start-up came along and decided to invent a brand new publication, entirely from scratch. What would that publication cover? Who would its audience be? What form would it take? What frequency? What price? And once all of those questions have been answered, what would the startup’s second title be? And the third?

Not Safe For Work Corporation answers those questions.

Our first publication, launching in January 2012 will be ‘The New Gambit’, a weekly news magazine that’s maybe best described as “the Economist as written by the Daily Show”. In other words, it’ll tell you everything you need to know (and maybe even think) about the week’s events, but it’ll make you laugh your ass off while it’s doing it.

It’ll be available on Kindle, iPad, Nook and every other ereader/tablet device we can publish on. None of the content will be published on the web — to read it, you’ll need to subscribe. It’ll cost 99c an issue, or around $50 per year. Subscribers will also get a bunch of other cool stuff that I’m not ready to talk about quite yet. And if you don’t laugh out loud at least once in every issue, we’ll give you your money back.

So, that’s the skeleton of the idea. But we’ve already started to put meat on those bones. For one thing, as a former struggling freelancer, I’m determined that we’ll respect professional writing, and worship professional writers. Our team will be a mix or staff writers and full time, but even one-off contributors will be paid well, and paid promptly.

We’re working to create a place — both physical and philosophical — where great writers can do their best work. Where reporters (and there will be plenty of real reporting) know that their editors have their back, and where funny people can finally get paid for doing what they’re good at. On a slightly more serious note, our advisory board includes world renowned experts in journalistic ethics who will help us build a new framework for the future of digital reporting. PR freebies and SEO have absolutely no place at NSFW. We’ll decide what’s fit to publish and we’ll pay our way. Our readers, not advertisers, are our customers.

There a limitless amount more to be said about all of this, and I’ll say more about it in due course here on the blog. But first and most pressingly, being out of stealth mode means I’m able to be a lot more open about the kind of people we’re hoping will join this exciting adventure.

First and foremost, if you’re blisteringly funny and able to write topical jokes to order, drop what you’re doing and email me. Likewise if you’re a brilliant but under-appreciated editor or a first rate publisher looking for a new challenge. We’re hiring at all points on the editorial and publishing chain.

Beyond that, consider this an open audition: if any of the above has caused a synapse to fire — if you have ideas for what you’d like to see in your dream ereader/tablet magazine, if you have strong feelings on the future of journalism, or if you just want to tell us what you think of the name ‘The New Gambit’ send me an email. I or someone one degree of separation from me will do my/their best to reply within 24 hours or so. But please be patient — things are more crazy even than this rapid-fire, under-edited post suggests.

One other thing: we are, as I explained here, based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many of the positions we’re hiring for — particularly the senior ones — will be based here. But if you’re unable to relocate, that need not be a deal breaker. If you’re the funniest man in Belgium, want to hear from you. If you’re the best damn publisher on the East Coast then I’ll fly to see you, or put you on a plane to Vegas for a chat. Again, send me an email and we’ll figure something out.

We’re aiming to have a pilot issue ready by the end of the year, and to begin a regular publishing schedule very early in 2012 so things are operating at top speed. I’m really excited by what we’re building here. Hopefully you are too. Without a hint of hyperbole, it’s going to be the best fucking thing ever.

I later explained the New Gambit name to Alexia Tsotsis at TechCrunch…

Carr says he chose the name The New Gambit because he wanted something that sounded sufficiently pompous, and was inspired by the Simpson’s episode where Homer reads an issue of the The Economist with a “Indonesia’s New Gambit” headline on the cover, asking Marge, “Did you know that Indonesia is in a state of turmoil?” Carr explains,”I’m a strong believer that jokes are even funnier in a grown-up setting … I mean, come on — the Economist and the Simpsons!”

Those posts caused an avalanche of emails. Unsurprisingly many of them came from freelance writers who believed that The New Gambit was the answer to their prayers, and they to ours. Also unsurprisingly many of those writers were in New York.

So in December of 2011 I got on a plane to New York (my first time using the NSFWCORP debit card) and booked into the Nolitan Hotel on Kenmare Street. From there I scurried around Manhattan meeting a half dozen of the more promising prospects, including Starlee Kine whose work had appeared on This American Life. Startlee introduced me to Stephen Sherill who had worked on Michael Moore’s TV nation. Sherill would later introduce me to Michael Jackson, the former head of Channel 4 in the UK.

I also began building an “advisory board” including my old pal (and soon to be Pando editor) Adam Penenberg, ex NY Times design director Khoi Vinh and Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash. To say these people provided valuable insight in the first months of NSFWCORP is a huge understatement.

But it was my meeting with Sherill, and subsequent re-reading of Michael Moore’s Adventure in a TV Nation –  that triggered my first mental pivot as to what “The New Gambit” should be.

I’d first watched TV Nation back in – I guess – 1994, when (a TV first!) it was broadcast simultaneously in both the US and the UK. (During a family vacation in Florida I was once able to watch the episode in Channel 4 in the UK, fly to Florida and catch the US airing shortly after we landed.) What made the show especially exciting was how every episode was presented almost as a campaign – Love Night, Canada Night, War Night – with each segment clustered around that theme.

I decided to steal that idea outright. Rather than being a magazine in any dull traditional sense, the New Gambit would take that same form, with weekly issues built around a theme.

In late December 2011 Molly and I took a trip to London, to celebrate my 32nd birthday and eat Indian food. It was during the latter – in a restaurant in Brick Lane – that I explained to Molly how my meeting with Stephen had altered my thinking.

We spent the next few hours brainstorming what issue one might be. I can’t remember where the idea for “The Elect Dean Cain As President Issue” came from, but here’s the result of our curry house brainstorming…

[IMAGE TK]

A few days later, we flew back to Vegas just in time to see in the New Year (2012) – standing on the Ogden roof, watching fireworks on the Strip – and to make my first really big NSFWCORP purchase: An office. Or rather an apartment in the Ogden to that would serve double duty as an office and a place for me to sleep. Apartment 805…

 

Rent: Somewhere just shy of $3k a month.

I moved in the first week of January and immediately began the important work of setting up the wifi…

And buying a bear filled with cookies…

And assembling about three thousand dollars worth of furniture shipped in from a warehouse in California…

 

Setting up the office and the wifi, and buying a Penguin-shaped dehumidifier called ‘Eleanor Rigby” seemed to take most of January. Or at least the part of January that wasn’t spent filling more and more notebooks with ideas about what might go into the first issue of NSFWCORP and commissioning a revised version of Molly’s logo from Yiying Lu, aka the illustrator of Twitter’s Fail Whale…

[Video TK]

In fact, January was a very video-heavy month. Sarah and I also launched a Skype-based video show for Pando – “Why Isn’t This News” – about our adventures building our respective companies. Episode one was published on January 18th 2012 and ends with Sarah complaining that the show is too long at 22 minutes. Ho ho ho.

My biggest brainwave from that same month was that we’d produce a weekly audio show – what would become NSFWLIVE – with each show divided into five parts to accompany each article in the pilot. Each segment would deal with a different story. (We would briefly consider having authors record audio versions of the actual article, before quickly realizing that would be a gigantic pain in the ass.)

Suddenly it was February and I was still very aware that I didn’t have any writers for the pilot issue, which I’d originally promised would be published in January. I also didn’t have anyone to build this miracle tablet magazine.

Enter Josh and Roger. Roger Tinch was a local designer who had worked with Alamo Drafthouse and immediately understood what NSFWCORP was all about. Which made one of us.  I met Roger in the Beat coffee house next to our office and he agreed to design the pilot issue. He even introduced me to our first illustrator, PJ Perez.

Even then, I still planned to publish The New Gambit through Apple’s newsstand and the Kindle Store. This was, after all, how e-publications were published at that time. It was only after I’d spent weeks trying to figure out the ridiculous cost structure of those 3rd party platforms and the expensive layout software required to publish on them that I realized the error of my ways.

Enter Josh Ellis, a local writer and web developer, who joined NSFWCORP around the same time. I invited Josh to brunch at the V’dara (spare no expense) and almost immediately hired him to build NSFWCORP/The New Gambit as an HTML5 all.

(If ya care, I would later explain more about that HTML5 decision on Pando.)

I shared the exciting news of hiring Josh (who, apparently I was describing as our “CTO”) in the February 6th episode of Why Isn’t This News.

That same episode was the first time I really started to talk publicly about what I’d been up to with NSFWCORP, including our decision to move from tablet native to HTML5. Much of the episode was spent with me showing Sarah the three billion different tablets I had to buy for testing…

WITN 5 from Paul Carr on Vimeo.

So now we had a designer and a developer, but absolutely no editorial content. A tech startup, in other words.

At least by mid February I had settled on a theme for the first issue: Missing, Presumed Dead. The idea (I think) being we would track down celebrities and other people who had vanished from the public eye and somehow build an issue around them. Or maybe it was an extension of the Dean Cain idea from London. These things tend to blur over time.

Fortunately it was at this point that Jason Heller, whose book Taft 2012 had just been published to great acclaim, fell from the sky. His book (which you should buy immediately) told the (satirical) story of what happened when William Howard Taft suddenly reappeared in 2012. I bought a copy at SFO during my trip to San Francisco for the first ever PandoMonthly event.

Then I emailed the Jason. He still has that email, and kindly sent it back to me to include here…

On Mon, Feb 20, 2012 at 12:47 AM, Paul Carr wrote:

Hey Jason,

First up, just finished reading Taft 2012. A spontaneous airport purchase, and a winning one. Great concept, brilliantly executed.

I’ve been slightly fascinated by WH Taft since Christopher Buckley made a joke about him which prompted me to visit the former’s Wikipedia page. (As a British ex-pat now living in the US, wikipedia is how I learn all of my American history.) And now, thanks to you, I feel like I’m an expert on both the fictionalized and non-fictionalized Taft.

Anyway. I’m writing less as a new fan and more as a prospective editor. I’m getting ready to launch a new tablet-and-ereader-based publication which we’re lazily describing as ‘the Economist, as written by the Daily Show’. We’ve raised money from some Silicon Valley folks and our advisory board includes people like Adam Penenberg from NYU (and played by Steve Zahn in the movie Shattered Glass), Khoi Vinh — former design director at the NYT and Richard Nash of Soft Scull [sic] press. We’re reasonably legit, in other words.

Here’s me:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Carr_%28writer%29

And here’s a meaningless holding page for the publication:

http://www.nsfwcorp.com

I assume you’re utterly swamped with work off the back of Taft but I wondered whether you might be interested in writing something for our pilot issue, which will be on the theme of ‘Missing, Presumed Dead’. Obviously that theme chimes neatly with the theme of the book so there’s a natural lead in to a piece from you. I was thinking maybe something on what today’s republican candidates should learn from WHT. Or something on how the disappearance of spats is directly linked to the downfall of society. Either-or.

If you’re interested, in principle, in writing something then let’s talk further. We’re paying $1.50 a word for the pilot and obviously we’d plug the book at the end etc etc.

Thoughts?

Paul

Paul Carr

A couple of things you’ll note from that email:

First, in February 2012 we were planning to pay $1.50 a word for the pilot. I meant what I said that NSFWCORP was going to be a writer’s magazine. We’d pay a good word rate and also – in something that I think was an innovation – we’d pay magazine writers in the same way book publishers pay their authors: Half on contract, half on delivery. That way, writers wouldn’t have to spend weeks working on a piece with no money in the bank.

Second, by now I was using The New Gambit name less and less. I didn’t even mention it in my email to Jason. A few weeks earlier, we’d received a shitty letter from a New Orleans based magazine called The Gambit (or something similar) threatening to sue us for trademark violation. Also NSFWCORP is just a better name. But, as you’ll see, the Gambit name stuck around a while longer.

Here’s Jason’s response…

On Monday, February 20, 2012 at 6:50 AM, Jason Heller wrote:

Hi Paul,

Great to hear from you on, and thanks for the generous words about Taft 2012. He is indeed a pretty remarkable character (in both the historical and fictional sense). And zeitgeist-ly enough, he seems to be popping up in the opinion pages an awful lot lately. Of course, that phenomenon could probably be contributed to the relentless turnover of our 100-year news cycle…

But anyway, to answer your question: Yes, I’d love to contribute something to NSFW’s pilot. What length did you have in mind? Let me know, and I’d be happy to draft you up a pitch/outline. There’s so much “Taft vs. Today” that I didn’t get to capitalize on in the book, seeing as how it was completed before the 2012 campaign was launched in earnest…

Thanks much,

Jason

Another sidenote from around this time: While NSFWCORP/The New Gambit was always going to be our first publication, I still wasn’t sure if it’d be our only publication. An alternative idea, sketched out in my notebooks from the time, was to act more like a contract publishing house – building magazines for other people on our shiny new HTML platform, while using NSFWCORP/TNG as our flagship/showroom product.

Part of that thinking came from conversations with Sarah Lacy whose PandoDaily was already doing great guns. Did it make sense for us to merge Pando and NSFWCORP and run it as a single company? After all, we both had Michael Arrington and Tony Hsieh as investors, and we both wanted to fix journalism.

My notes from the time show me brainstorming (with myself) how such a deal might work. We never quite came to terms on a merger (at least not in 2012) but we did agree to collaborate on a NSFWCORP-published/Pando branded ebook about Facebook’s upcoming IPO.

Back at NSFWCORP, Jason Heller had been joined (virtually speaking) by New York based writer Patrick Sauer who wanted to write about Vegas’ own Heart Attack Grill. I’d also convinced the wonderful Molyl Crabapple to illustrate the header of the issue, and several other pieces.Two pilot pieces down, three to go!

We were now in mid-March and Josh and Roger were doing sterling work with the initial designs and coding of NSFWCORP, especially given my constant demands for fundamental changes to how the thing would look and feel. I’d also hired Rosalie Miletich, another Vegas local, as our first copy editor and office manager.

Early April – April 12th/13th to be more specific – saw the construction of the NSFWCORP audio studio. That task fell to Josh and I and we set off to spend even more of NSFWCORP’s dwindling funds at Sam Ash. An audio board, headphones, some software and a desk to hold it all were carted back to apartment 805. A trip to the Apple store furnished an iMac to run Ableton.

We set up the studio in an airless, windowless closet which, of course, was echo-y as all hell until Josh had the bright idea of bulk buying a car-load of mattress pads from Target and attaching them to the walls with picture hooks.

But, Christ, finding more writers was proving way harder than I expected. perhaps it’s because nobody in the US comedy writing world had a fucking clue who I was, or perhaps there just aren’t many people who can write funny journalism (I shall insist to my grave that it’s the latter.) Either way, by mid April, I was ready to give up on funny Americans and decide instead to email two of my favorite Brits – James Aylett and Sarah Bee, both of whom had worked with me on The Friday Thing and The Friday project.

Here’s the email I sent to James on April 16th 2012:

I realise — assume – you’re ridiculously busy with Art-related things but, ahead of 24HIA [our pre-existing plan to livestream the 2012 election], do you have any interest in contributing to The New Gambit?

I was trying to source the bulk of our freelance writers from this side of the Atlantic, but I keep running into a giant wall on to which someone has painted the words AMERICANS ARE REALLY BAD AT WRITING TOPICAL COMEDY.

Seriously – have you seen how bad the Onion has got since they moved to Chicago?

Anyway, yeah, any interest? We;d pay for words, obv. There’s 75c a word in the editorial spreadsheet at the moment, but flexible. Tone: not a million miles away from what TFT would probably be if it had kept maturing for another five years. And obviously more internationally (read: US-friendly) focused.

Be great to have you involved. Not really sure why I didn’t look back across the  Atlantic sooner. I tried, you Yankee fuckers. I tried.

Oh, and we”re going to do a weekly (potentially even daily, but we’ll see) audio show (I refuse to use the word “podcast”) which would be great to have you involved with too. And might be an interesting pre-cursor to 24HIA.  Immediate knee-jerk thoughts?

As you’ll notice from my email to James, by April, our per-word budget had dropped from $1.50 a word to 75c a word. By this point I was watching with mounting horror how quickly our seed $125k was flowing from the NSFWCORP account. And we were already at least three months late on publishing the pilot.

James – thank God – said he’d be happy to contribute (little did I know he’d end up as a writer, developer, product genius, NSFWLIVE host and 1,000 other things at NSFWCORP), as did Sarah.

Sarah even had an idea for the pilot. Which left only two slots left to fill.

That forth slot – and later a major editorial role – would filled thanks to Richard Nash who listened patiently as I despaired about the lack of funny, available, brilliant American writers. Then he said the five words that would set the tone for so much of what NSFWCORP became: “Do you know Mark Ames?”

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