New Media

Paul Carr’s NSFW Corp Picks Up 3,000 Subscribers and Hires ‘The War Nerd’–All to Help Save Journalism

"There's a lot of opinion in Blog Land, but there aren't that many people that know what the fuck they're talking about. "
war nerd Paul Carrs NSFW Corp Picks Up 3,000 Subscribers and Hires The War Nerd  All to Help Save Journalism

(Photo: NSFW Corp)

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the antics of rapscallion writer Paul Carr since he dropped that resignation bomb on TechCrunch last year, here’s a little refresher: After accusing his former editor of being a man without hap, Mr. Carr migrated across the tech blogosphere to PandoDaily, where he and his charming British accent cohost a video series called “Why Isn’t This News?” with the ever-righteous Sarah Lacy.

A few months ago, Mr. Carr did one better than just questioning others’ news judgement. He founded his own online magazine: NSFW Corp. Mr. Carr raised a mid-six-figure seed round to launch the site, which describes itself as “the future of journalism, with jokes.”

“Everyone says they want to cover stories that aren’t being covered,” Mr. Carr told Betabeat when asked about NSFW’s mission. “We want to cover stories that are probably being quite widely covered, but are just not being covered that well. So things like the Iraq War. It’s not like no one heard the war is going on. There’s a lot of opinion in Blog Land, but there aren’t that many people that know what the fuck they’re talking about. So I think the big thing for us is to know what the fuck we’re talking about.”

Mr. Carr seems to have learned a little something about monetization from covering starry-eyed startups for all those years. Acerbic daily dispatches from the site’s growing editorial staff sit behind a $3/month paywall. Mr. Carr told Betabeat that NSFW has already picked up 3,000 subscribers since July, who pay for the privilege of reading dogged journalists like Mark Ames, who co-edited the gonzo muckraking paper The eXile with Matt “Vampire Squid” Taibbi.

(Mr. Ames, who is helming NSFW’s election coverage from Salt Lake City, recently outed Planet Money‘s Adam Davidson for some ethically murky coverage related to the show’s corporate sponsor, financial conglomerate GMAC–now Ally Financial.)

Yesterday and today, Mr. Carr announced a number of other notable hires. Military columnist Gary Brecher, better known as “The War Nerd,” will come out of retirement to pen a regular column for NSFW. Brecher is actually a pseudonym for author and essayist Dr. John Dolan. The “War Nerd” column was first launched in The eXile, where “he predicted that the Iraq War would go badly over time—and was vindicated, much to his neocon detractors’ grief,” Mr. Ames writes in an introductory blog post, describing the style of the column as “cheerful nihilism.”

“He’s very funny as well,” said Mr. Carr said of Mr. Dolan. “So he manages to take these very often harrowing and grotesque sort of situations and turn them into very very readable and interesting copy. The first column he’s doing for us is basically–since he’s been away for a few years–a kind of wrap up of where we are with all of America’s various wars. It takes you through Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Pakistan region and also to Syria,” he explained, adding, “It’s just very readable even for those who have no real interest or appreciation for the minutiae of foreign policy. You come out of the other end feeling like you’re a genius.”

Leigh Cowart and James Kotecki, who have already been contributing to NSFW, were also promoted to full-time editorial roles. Mr. Kotecki is now a Political Correspondent, and Ms. Cowart is the magazine’s Science and Sex editor.

Mr. Carr cited Mr. Kotecki’s pieces for NSFW covering the political conventions as another example of improving on lackluster or limpid reporting. The young Mr. Kotecki is perhaps best known as the kid who got convinced Ron Paul (among other political figures) to submit to an in-person interview from his Georgetown University dorm room.

“Everybody, everybody was at the conventions,” said Mr. Carr. “David Carr wrote a great column in the [New York] Times where he interviewed reality TV producers and said, ‘How could you make the coverage of these conventions interesting?’ And the producer from ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ said: I would just find the youngest kid you could find who was of legal drinking age and say, take me the parties. It was sort of irritating because we’d already decided that was our strategy.”

NSFW sent Mr. Kotecki to cover “the weird fucked up stuff,” that happens around the main event, Mr. Carr explained. “He spent one day just driving around getting stoned with this guy who used to be Glenn Beck’s radio cohost. James is not at home with smoking weed in a pickup truck with Glenn Beck’s cohost,” he explained with a laugh, “but James is like, ‘No I’m a journalist, I have to do this.'”

It’s the same impulse that prompted Mr. Ames to opt for Salt Lake City over Washington D.C. to cover the election. “He was like, ‘No, I want to go to Mormon country. I want to live in Salt Lake City.’ If Romney wins, then suddenly Salt Lake City–everybody’s going to be in it. But right now it’s just Mark in the car he just bought, driving around meeting weird people. He’s getting crazy amazing stories because no one’s on the lockdown. No one has heard of NSFW in Salt Lake City.”

To add the radical atmosphere, NSFW also publishes “Desknotes” alongside many of its pieces, which offers the readers candid insight into the back-and-forth of the writing process, starting with the pitch.

All of this sounded awfully high-minded for a former tech blogger, especially during such a self-congratulatory week for the industry. Shouldn’t he be disrupting something or other at the TechCrunch conference? “I’m kind of giving the conference a bit of a wide berth,” said Mr. Carr, who does some tech writing for NSFW, but is careful not to limit the site’s audience to just the tech world. “I always find it a bit weird. It’s like let it go, you don’t work there anymore. I just can’t see the appeal of walking around the thing and people going, ‘Oh hey, you used to work here, but you don’t now and yet you’re still here.'”

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com