LAS VEGAS -- Not Safe For Work Corporation isn't a front for the Central Intelligence Agency or a moniker for people too lazy to seek jobs but rather a Las Vegas web publishing startup that describes itself as "the future of journalism, with jokes."
The brainchild of British-born journalist Paul Carr, 32, NSFWCorp.com is attempting to become the latest major entry in the growing field of alternative journalism websites that range from political advocacy to pure gossip.
Incorporated in October and based at the Ogden residential complex downtown, Carr said the company name came from a column he used to write for The Guardian, a British daily newspaper.
"It means two things," he said. "It's the thing you flag up on an Internet link, something you shouldn't click on at work. It's literally the idea that some of this stuff we're writing is probably not the sort of thing you want to read out loud in the office. The other meaning of it is the fact that I and several other of the contributors have been fired from every job we've ever had and none of us literally being safe for any employer. We're hopefully going to be writing and doing stuff that most other publications don't commission anymore. We want to do the stuff that other publications can't do."
At the company's first ever writers' retreat last week at the Ogden, where many of the nearly 20 correspondents congregated, the free-flowing conversation turned to the subject of journalism awards. The recommendation was made that if their month-old website won any awards, they should be given away to their subscribers.
They turned their attention to possible coverage of the Republican National Convention that will be held in Tampa, Fla., at the end of August. During a break, Carr said: "What we probably won't do is send a person to sit in the convention hall and watch the theater play out because we know what will happen. Frankly you can turn on CNN and see it.
"When you bring thousands of high-profile Republicans into the same town interesting things occur and we should be around there watching them," Carr said. "In the Tampa convention they've drafted in strippers. There are insufficient strippers in Tampa to deal with the number of delegates. Now I challenge anyone not to find a story in that."
So far, the website has attracted 3,000 subscribers, each of whom pay $3 to read daily dispatches on national and global topics from the witty team. Carr's hope is to achieve 100,000 subscribers in a year to 18 months and grow his staff to as many as 60 correspondents. Some of the writers already in his stable possess impressive credentials as contributors to publications such as The New York Times, Mother Jones and The Economist.
Not Safe For Work has also published its first e-book, "We'll Always Have The Flamingo," which Carr wrote to describe a month he spent in Las Vegas by staying at a different Strip resort each night. The company plans to make it a habit of publishing e-books for $3 each featuring its brand of knee-slapping, long form journalism. Carr and the company's web designer, Josh Ellis, also co-host a thrice weekly web broadcast that can be accessed through the company's website and deals with the news of the week.
When asked to describe the type of writers he is looking for, Carr said: "Really funny. I'll forgive everything else as long as they're funny."
But he also wants them to be sound journalists who are original and whose writings avoid cliches.
NSFW Corp has a team of writers that include Brock Mahan (L) and Patrick Sauer (R)
"We even fact check our jokes," he said. "If you're talking about current affairs, you have to be right. The way you get subscribers and readers to come with you on this ridiculous journey is if they know you know what you're talking about.
"There's a rich history of satire and jokes and just humor driving the conversation because it gives people an easy hook. There's a quote (from Oscar Wilde) where if you're going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh or otherwise they will kill you. More importantly, if you're going to tell people the truth, you better make them laugh or otherwise they won't listen."
One quality he doesn't want is snarky. He even detests the word.
"If they look at what we write and say that it is snarky, one of two things is happening," Carr said. "Either they are wrong or we've failed. Snarky is what the whole Internet seems to be becoming. It's a particularly annoying version of cynicism where it's the idea that everything is bad, everything is stupid. It's really easy to be snarky. You just pick up a rock and throw it at somebody. It's a really lazy form of journalism. If you take journalism out of the equation, then you get snark. It's bullying and it's really dumb."
Paul Carr, Editor in Chief and founder of Not Safe For Work Corporation
At least in the foreseeable future Not Safe For Work won't have any topics its writers will avoid, and will even tackle tragedies with its brand of humor. Carr likened that philosophy to the way Brits joked about the nightly carnage of World War II because "that's the way we got through it."
"It's a very British sensibility we have, which is there is nothing you can't highlight the absurdity in but the challenge is to make sure you're not joking at the expense of victims," he said. "The Colorado shootings was a great example of where there was nothing funny about what happened, but there was plenty of absurdity around the coverage. There was plenty of absurdity around some of the speculation that went on. And for us to not cover that because well, you know, you don't make jokes about tragedy, that's actually doing a disservice to readers.
Carr brings a colorful background to the table. The son of parents who owned and managed hotels, he continued to spend much of his life living in them throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. In this transient lifestyle he endured bouts with alcoholism, a subject he wrote about in an essay headlined "How I Stopped Drowning in Drink" that The Wall Street Journal published in March. He has remained sober for three years.
"The media coverage of some of the most horrible tragedies, if you actually take it in the abstract, is almost hilarious in how obnoxious it is. Somebody has to point that out."
He was hailed in some quarters as a modern-day gonzo superstar in 2008 when he released the autobiography "Bringing Nothing To The Party -- True Confessions Of A New Media Whore." As a satirist he has written extensively about the tech industry. Sometimes, he has found himself to be the center of the story, such as when he publicly quit his position last year as a columnist at AOL-owned TechCrunch and talked about his departure on CNN.
Does this background make him the second coming of the original gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson?
"I would never trust anyone who refers to themselves as a gonzo journalist because it usually means they're some sort of Hunter Thompson fan boy, which I definitely am," Carr said. "He and the whole new journalism movement created this type of reporting that we are definitely doing, which is inserting ourselves in the story and using all the tricks of fiction to write about nonfiction.
"But the danger of people who call themselves gonzo journalists is they literally want to be Hunter S. Thompson. So you find them going out, taking a lot of drugs, going on mescaline and not actually doing any good work. I mean, Hunter S. Thompson was great because he wasn't trying to be someone else. Hopefully, we'll be a bit original. But obviously it's a similar style. It's that idea of getting yourself right in the middle of a story and not being afraid to start fires every so often and see what happens."
One who is putting a lot of faith, and cash, behind Carr's latest effort is Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos. Having invested in numerous tech startups and downtown projects in Las Vegas, Hsieh has made a "mid-range six-figure" bet on Not Safe For Work, Carr said. For his part, Carr plans to stick around Las Vegas for quite some time and enjoy his birdseye's view from the Ogden of the changes taking place downtown.
"A lot of people who live in Vegas think of downtown, especially once you get off Fremont Street, as this horrible, derelict, unsalvageable area," Carr said. "And then you have Tony Hsieh from Zappos who is like, ‘No, I'm going to make this into this wonderland paradise like San Francisco in the desert kind of thing.' And I, as a writer, and somebody who is fascinated by people, I am fascinated by that, that pulling in both directions."