ak13, RIP

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When I was young and innocent and still had hope, and the sky was blue and all this were fields, I spent rather a lot of time writing for a webzine called ak13.

Every Tuesday night a crowd of us would meet up in a pub in Peckham and drink several pints of beer in the optimistic belief that we were having an editorial meeting. We’d talk about the week’s news, discuss unusual angles we could take on things, and go away in cheerful ignorance fact that many of the great ideas we’d come up with were never going to get written.

But plenty of others did – and the result was rather lovely. We had a trends column, a list of words plucked from the ether and placed at random under headings such as “drifting” as if it were a Day Today sketch. We had Marketing Mike, a fictitious brand consultant who’d suggest ways of re-branding difficult subjects. To improve Al-Quaeda recruitment rates, for example, he suggested a pair of new kids channels, Wahabibies and Al-Qids. (Mike ended up doing rather well for himself. His byline later described him as the Minister of Brand for Estonia, I seem to recall.)

We’d try to reconcile politics and finance long before it was fashionable; come up with silly top ten lists (“Reasons why the War on Terror is a dead ringer for the Godfather trilogy”); or simply run with entirely lunatic notions. I once wrote an essay explaining that, if you really wanted to understand New Labour, all you needed to do was follow the career path of Four Weddings and a Funeral writer Richard Curtis. It was 2,000 words long.

We had no money, minimal advertising, and most of our number had very little time either, but still we managed to build something that was, briefly, good. The hits were climbing, its reputation growing, and one rather lovely review described it as like all the best bits of the Sunday supplements.

Not long after the 2005 election, ak13 stopped publishing. The lack of income, and various other things going on everyone’s lives, simply made it impractical to continue. Also, I think, we were doing something that, in retrospect, looks a bit ill-timed. Back then, the new new thing, the toy all the cool new media kids were playing with, was the blog. We were trying to create a magazine, publishing chunks of material in a weekly burst, with issue numbers and everything. We were trying to do something new and somehow managed to make it look incredibly old.

I don’t care. It was great, and it was ours, and for one bright moment I thought it was somehow going to make our fortunes.

A couple of weeks ago, after sitting there doing nothing for nearly seven years, the site finally went dark. I entirely understand the reasons for the decision, and looking back most of the stuff I wrote then is nowhere near as good as the sort of stuff I write now. (That’s not going to stop me reposting it in some dark corner here, of course.)

All the same, though, ak13, remains one of the most exciting things I’ve ever worked on. For years afterwards, strangers at parties would occasionally ask if I were the Jonn Elledge who’d written for ak13; I know at least one of the others has had the same experience. Maybe, just maybe, we’d been on to something.

Flotsam and jetsam and odds and ends

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From 2003-6, I intermittently contributed to the New Statesman‘s New Media Awards blog, writing stories of textspeak death certificates and Korean karaoke phones. Very little of this, sadly, is still on the interweb. Try not to feel too downhearted.

Instead, here are some other oddities I have put into the world, thanks to ak13:

  • A Sicilian Message – Ten suspicious parallels between the War on Terror and the Godfather Trilogy (ak13, June 2004)
  • Ten reasons to love… global warming (ak13, September 2004)
  • Meaning frenzy – on how ‘objective journalism’ may reflect the views of a dominant class (ak13, July 2004)
  • Ten reasons to love… the rainy British summer (ak13, July 2004)
  • Ten reasons… why you don’t matter a damn – my classic work of existential despair (ak13, March 2004)

Some greatest hits

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  • How unpaid internships have made the media so middle class (The First Post, August 2009)
  • Busy doing nothing – the inert mayoralty of Boris Johnson (Londonist, July 2009)
  • A lesson in private education – the strange success of Cognita’s schools (Guardian Unlimited/Comment is Free, July 2009)
  • They come over here, they take our houses… Why the immigrant housing myth persists (Londonist, July 2009)
  • Putting the fun in fundamentalism – a trip to Kentucky’s museum of creationism (NewStatesman.com, November 2008)
  • Disappointment can wait – the election night scenes in Washington DC (NewStatesman.com, November 2008)
  • Sweet, crazy people – a visit to a McCain-Palin campaign office in Ohio (NewStatesman.com, October 2008)
  • Nobody can handle the truth about PFI – fifteen years and £57 billion later, and we still don’t know if it works (The First Post, September 2008)
  • A load of Bull – some thoughts on left-wing patriotism (The Sharpener, June 2006)
  • A Sicilian Message – Ten suspicious parallels between the War on Terror and the Godfather Trilogy (ak13, June 2004)
  • Dead giveaway – sitting in judgement on Santa Claus for the Political Judge column (ak13, December 2003)