Zoom! Yum! New Internet ‘Paper’ to Cover Jetpacks, International Conflict, Food

c neyfak Zoom! Yum! New Internet Paper to Cover Jetpacks, International Conflict, FoodJust when you thought the Internet couldn’t get any louder! Tomorrow brings the launch of the Faster Times, “a new type of newspaper for a new type of world.”
Modeled on the Huffington Post, the Faster Times is a combination of original content and aggregated links divided into about 15 sections, including business, politics, arts, food, sports, design and travel. Its staff, led by Faster Times’ founding publisher and editor in chief Sam Apple, 33, will consist of several dozen editors and writers, including correspondents in 20 countries worldwide. At launch, the site will consist mainly of commentary, but somewhere down the line, Mr. Apple wants the Faster Times to offer original reporting, the way Talking Points Memo does.

Mr. Apple wants the site to have a sense of humor: The home page will feature a big headline at the top, and stories of particular urgency might be accompanied by an animated graphic of a little guy waving his arms and screaming hysterically—the Faster Times’ answer to the Drudge siren and the HuffPo globe. Correspondents have been recruited to cover topics as self-consciously obscure and zany as jetpacks, time travel and office supplies.

Among those who have signed on with the Faster Times: Daily Show writer Jason Reich, who will cover video games; New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark, who will write about home cooking; novelist Neal Pollack, who will write about yoga; New York Times Magazine contributing editor Charles Siebert, who will write about science; and How to Sell author Clancy Martin, who will write for a section called Love & Death.

The staff will not be drawing salaries. Instead, writers will earn 75 percent of the revenue brought in through ads sold against their individual pages, while editors will get 10 percent of the revenue drawn from all the pages they oversee and be rewarded with a percentage of equity in the company.

Mr. Apple, who just published a memoir about parenthood and spent the better part of the last decade working in various capacities for Nerve.com, has been honest with the people he has recruited about the fact that the 75 percent ad share will not translate to very much, and that as long as the site is not backed by investors—so far, Mr. Apple says, he has not sought them out—everyone working on it will essentially be a volunteer.

“We recognize that this model can really only work and sustain us if we develop, if our traffic really grows and if our ad sales expand,” Mr. Apple said. He added: “I like to think of it as a publication that’s owned by the journalists who are creating it.”

Mr. Apple’s experiment arrives at a moment when the question of whether journalists should be willing to write for no pay—and whether publishers should be ashamed for asking them to—is at the center of a highly charged debate sparked by the publication of Chris Anderson’s book Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

So how was Mr. Apple able to convince so many professional journalists—many of whom are full-time freelancers—to help him out?

‘I like to think of it as a publication that’s owned by the journalists who are creating it.’ —Sam Apple

 

For design editor Kolby Yarnell, who lost his most recent full-time job shortly after the shuttering of LTB Media’s Culture + Travel, the Faster Times offered a chance to do meaningful work while earning freelance money on assignments he would not have taken in better days.

“Right now, you’re having to take what you can get to pay the bills. The prospect of staying in the conversation and covering the topics that you are most interested in is becoming more important to people as they’re losing those writing gigs that they had in the past,” said Mr. Yarnell.

“I think of this as something I’m doing instead of hiring a publicist,” said Ms. Clark, the food writer. She has a book coming out in 2010 from Hyperion called A Good Appetite, and she thinks writing a column for the Faster Times will help get her name out there. “Do I ever think I’m going to see any money from this? No, absolutely not. … I’ve lived the life of being paid as a writer—I’ve enjoyed that life. I’m going to tell my daughter about it one day, like, ‘Honey, I was actually paid money to write!’”

Clay Risen, who holds a day job at the quarterly journal Democracy and freelances for a number of publications (including The Observer), will be a business correspondent for the site. He said he was won over by the emphasis that Mr. Apple and his deputy, Adam Wilson, have placed on the revenue-sharing model.

“They were not saying, ‘Well, we’re just gonna run this site and we might make some money off it, and you guys can write for us because you get your shits and giggles out of it,” he said. “It has that feeling of a recession start-up, where really creative things can happen and then explode when the economy in general picks up.”

lneyfakh@observer.com