July 12, 2011
When William Fenton (Class of 2005) describes the road from graduation to working at PC Magazine in New York City, one word seems to sum it all up for him: labyrinthine. Like a lot of people in interesting and intriguing jobs, Fenton’s journey was slightly indirect. “I worked in educational publishing, traveled, went to graduate school and played project manager (fairly unconvincingly) at a small publishing house,” shared Fenton, who graduated from Rollins with a bachelor's degree in English. “I ultimately landed the PCMag role the old-fashioned way: resumes, cover letters and perspiration.”
A year later, Fenton has carved out his own niche at the magazine with his special interest in eBook reader-tablet convergence and cloud computing. And when he’s not writing about the latest internet and software advances, he writes poetry and prose. His work has been featured in publications like Aesthetica, Ampersand and Boston Literary Magazine. “I haven’t published anything recently, but I keep telling myself I’m in an ‘exploratory’ phase. Whatever that means.”
What does a day in the life at PC Magazine look like?
What I like about writing for PCMag is that every week—and day—is different. One day I’m writing about mobile games and speaking with an entrepreneur at a Silicon Valley startup, the next I’m reviewing web conferencing software and meeting with Cisco’s VP of operations. It requires a bit of mental agility, which I probably don’t have but I do enjoy the challenge.
I read that you have a particular interest in eBook reader technology. It seems like a good fit for someone with an English degree. Do you think eBooks signal the death of book printing?
Death of Dovers, I think. After all, what is the value-added of Dover edition beyond an eBook? Certainly there’s a loss of sensuality, but I’d bet that most cost-conscious consumers (Dover’s market) would happily trade physicality for savings on printing and distribution, not to mention convenience. When it comes to beefier editions—such as a Norton Critical Edition—it seems to me the long-term outlook could actually brighten: With dime novels off the shelves, there’s room for editions that prize comprehensiveness. It also opens opportunities for publishers that prioritize aesthetics. High quality layouts, top-notch presses and artisanal paper stock and binding cannot be supplanted by a Kindle. Perhaps we’ll even see a rekindling of leather-bound editions (a boy can dream).
How do you think eBooks will impact higher education?
If university press houses are clever, eBooks could be a boon. Most academic texts are written for a fairly specialized audience, which means limited print runs and even more limited availability. (I ran into this all the time with literary criticism). If, however, scholarly texts were made available electronically, there would be no need for print runs, and readers could access content near-instantaneously at a discount. With less risk to publishers—no copies gathering dust on shelves—new editions could roll out more aggressively and new authors could find voices.
While at Rollins, you participated in the Winter With the Writers program. Can you tell me a little about what that experience meant to you both personally and professionally?
I was incredibly fortunate to intern for the 2005 Winter with the Writers season. We had an all-star cast: Barbara Robinette Moss, Denise Duhamel, Edward P. Jones and Michael Ondaatje. In addition to some priceless feedback—I still can’t believe Edward P. Jones workshopped my fiction—I enjoyed getting to know the writers personally. When you realize how discerning Jones is about his ginger ale, you realize that, in addition to being a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, he’s a living, breathing person. The experience made writing more accessible: It’s not simply divine inspiration; it’s damn hard work.
What advice would you like to give to current Rollins students?
I’m the last person who ought to be giving advice. Any for me?
By Kristen Manieri