Thursday, March 18th, 2010

A Conversation with Paul Ford, the Now-Former Web Editor of Harper's Magazine

IT IS A MAGAZINE?Choire Sicha: Dear Paul Ford: Why did you quit Harper's this week?

Paul Ford: I am leaving to pursue other opportunities. Not a euphemism! I'm working primarily with Activate, which is the amazing new-media/technology convergence consulting micro-megacorporation that sprung fully formed from the heads of Anil Dash and Michael Wolf, and also with Predicate, which is a powerhouse content strategy consultancy operated by Jeffrey MacIntyre. Both are working with me so that I can mention them in the Awl, so now I can invoice.

I've been at Harper's for five years. It's very weird to be outside. Everyone has MacBooks. People use nouns as verbs. Someone wrote that they were going to f/u with me the other day, which concerned me, and someone else said that they looked forward to calendaring a meeting. Can I learn this strange new bird-language? I don't know. I'm planning to ride my bike to Newark soon, outside of bedbug range, and hit up the thrift stores so that I can have some emergency suits. Let's hope someone with size-54 shoulders recently died. Also I want to start my blog up again. The most important thing any person can do in this world is get back to their blog. In my opinion.

Choire: Are rats sinking a deserted ship? [Jennifer Szalai, a senior editor, who handled reviews, also quit this week.] No wait, you know what I mean.

Paul: The rats are smoking a little too much, trying to figure out how why they can't get the layout to work in InDesign. Some rats are going, most rats are staying. Like everywhere. Here are some fun rat facts: NYC's vaudeville union was called the White Rats. I once wrote something about ratproofing my apartment: The most common rat name is Slim. Rats can legally vote in Louisiana.

Choire: Are you a rat? Or will you be "consulting" with your former employer?

Paul: You think I don't see your little insinuating quote marks? I'm still an editor, dammit. You can't slip things like that past me! I will not be "'consulting'," I will be CONSULTING.

This has been very amiable and kind of sad for everyone involved, except for the people who have secretly hated me for years. I plan to pop back in before too long and finish up the re-code of the site in Django and make it easier for editors to work on the site through a web interface, and basically make everything go okay. I'll have a relationship of some kind with the magazine until I'm an old web coot telling young people about how we edited our HTML by hand rather than having our digital sex pony avatars do it for us in our Farmbooks. Which is basically me now talking to anyone younger than 27.

You know what happened, really and without irony? I had an opportunity to be an editor at Harper's, to edit pieces for the magazine. It was something I expected to really want. I had wonderful editors to learn from. I did a little of it for print and a lot for the web. I wasn't bad at it, even. Not great, but not bad. I could have been a respected editor instead of a huge nerd. But all the editing in the world can't compare to building little websites and mangling text and writing things and messing around in spreadsheets and figuring out what's wrong with comments. I wake up thinking about how all the pieces fit together and I want to do more of it and with lots of people. I plan to be scared and exhausted most of the time. So far that's working.

Choire: What is your favorite Alex Chilton video, song or tale?

Paul: My favorite tale is from Our Band Could Be Your Life, when he shut down Gibby Haynes's rampage through the Netherlands:

Moments later a man entered the dressing room and asked if he could borrow a guitar. "BORROW A GUITAR??!!! WELL, WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU???!!! [Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers] screamed, eyes flashing in delirious anticpation of forthcoming violence. But the man was totally unfazed.

"I'm Alex Chilton," the man answered calmly.

Haynes was flabbergasted. After a long pause, he methodically opened the remaining guitar cases one by one and gestured at them as if to say, "Take anything you want."

19 Comments / Post A Comment

NinetyNine (#98)

Hooray for new jobs and all (really!), but I initially thought 'I am going to work for Activate and Predicate' was the opening line to the sequel 'Gary Benchley, Middle-Aged Media Star.'

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

I think I'm going to start a company called Dedicate. And when it folds, I will go to Ikea, get some kicking office gear, grab some friends, some cool Interns who love to work for free, get some pizza and start Rededicate. We're going to pwn the Web 3.0!!!

Gary Benchley, Rock Star, is the funniest book about indie rock of all time. A lot of those jokes still ping around in my head.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

That is a great Chilton anecdote. I am also fond of the one where he sent Evan Dando away from his dressing room on a weed-buying errand.

Also also, I now no longer need renew my Harper's sub.

sunnyciegos (#551)

Thank you for this! Godspeed Paul!

joeclark (#651)

As I believe everyone knows, I hold the conviction that the only renaissance men (sic) working on the onliné sphere are Mr. PAUL FORD and Mr. BEN HAMMERSLEY. This conviction has been disputed precisely twice, once each by either man.

Sally Provan (#3,648)

ooooh, i love your cute little acute accent over the e.

wb (#2,214)

I am 25 and have edited HTML by hand, Paul.


kryz (#311)

I have no idea what "having our digital sex pony avatars do it for us in our Farmbooks" means, but it sounds hot.

FakeErinMcKean (#4,049)

Paul Ford is a national treasure. Thank god he's an American. If he were a national treasure for another country it would all be over for the U. S. of A.

alexanderchee (#3,995)

Kudos. And the Chilton story is a killer.

rodtownsend (#3,285)

"amazing new-media/technology convergence consulting micro-megacorporation"

HOW MANY DOTCOM BUBBLES MUST THERE BE BEFORE EVERYONE REALIZES THE INTERNET IS POWERED ON SNAKEOIL? (Mitigating: Anil Dash seems (from here, far away from the tech-media bubble) like a really righteous person, so maybe not.)

anildash (#487)

I knew my wife was the one for me when, early in our courtship, she would send me Ftrain links.

Now we shall make beautiful snake oil together. Me and Paul, I mean.

Paul Ford (#4,068)

It's true!

Matt Evans (#4,053)

I'm so happy to see other Benchley fans. I live in Utah. No one here knows about Benchley. Long live Benchley!

hugesunglasses (#2,696)

Using nouns as verbs…so now I can invoice. Love this guy!

Pierce (#3,939)

With open arms and a happy heart I welcome the long-overdue return to the Internet of both Paul Ford and the blink tag.

jolie (#16)

OH GOD CAN WE HAVE HIM PLEASE PAPA PLEASE???? Paul Ford is my favorite Internet pony ever!!!!

Lush Acres (#245,074)

Lush Acres EC will be accessible with Kupang LRT Station as well as Sengkang Bus Interchange. It is also right beside Tampines Expressway(TPE). Lush Acres EC is also near to Marina Country Club, Sengkang Riverside Park and Sheng Siong hypermart in Sengkang Central.
Sengkang West EC

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