I suppose it's appropriate that I'm sitting down tonight with 320 pages of original news content, pondering how the future of journalism might actually be contained in the redesigned, re-imagined format of newsprint and ink.
Even as I sit and ponder, dozens of Richmonders have gathered to hear several local news experts talk about the future of news at the recently reopened Infuzion in Scott's Addition. That's appropriate and ironic, since the host of that event is Aaron Kremer, who successfully launched Richmond's only online business publication last year and was taken to task this week by some of the town's Twitterati for his "Why I still hate Twitter" column.
Appropriate, and timely, too, that much of the media talk this week has been about ways in which the poorly named iPad will save the book industry, the magazine industry and, possibly, the Chinese manufacturing industry.
It's no secret the media world is in a swirl, but I find quiet pleasure when I sit down to discover that some talented, smart people are playing around with ways to craft a different future for it.
Which brings me to McSweeney's. If you know them at all, it's most likely for their hip online site filled with bits of news, satire, good writing and powerful essays. Or for McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, its experimental publishing concern. It's less likely that you know McSweeney's for its writing and tutoring centers, named 826 and located in seven cities around the country.
Someone on Twitter (Jeff Kelley or Jason Kenney, or maybe it was Simon Owens) alerted me to the existence of McSweeney's San Francisco Panorama, the massively dense and oversized attempt to produce an interesting, relevant and well-designed newspaper. I promptly sent away for my copy, ponying up $16 on a hope and a prayer.
It arrived today, and skimming through a few of its sections and one of its glossy magazine inserts, I have to say, I'm impressed. The brainchild of author Dave Eggers, founder of McSweeney's, the Panorama is an amazing handful of news, stories and design.
A bit big to read on the bus, but a nice read, nonetheless.
Nice enough that the entire print run sold out on the streets of San Francisco in 90 minutes when it was released on December 8. (Newsies sold the 320-page newspaper on the streets of San Francisco for $5.)
I'm not the only one. Here's what the San Francisco Chronicle had to say about the San Francisco Panorama:
"We started this six months ago with an eye to reinventing the form," said best-selling author Eggers, who fell in love with papers and print while working on his college newspaper. "When I was hearing about the death of newspapers, it hit me viscerally: What if I don't have a newspaper in the morning? If newspapers are going to survive, they're going to have to do things the Internet cannot do."As newspapers across the country grapple with a bad economy and changing media landscape, retrenching in size and staffing, Panorama is a celebration of print. Big (at 15 by 22 inches), bold and colorful, with a mix of experimental graphics and serious journalism delivered in a literary style, the one-day, one-time-only paper is intended to get people to think about the centuries-old medium in new ways.
"This is a time to roar back and assert and celebrate the beauty of the printed page," said Eggers, whose book "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" made him a literary sensation when it was published in 2000.
So, what's in this celebration of the printed page? Lots. Here's how TIME magazine describes the broadsheet:
"We wanted to remind people of what newspapers can do that the Internet can't," Eggers explains: the format excels at long articles, photographs and comics and can be read anywhere — "even in the bathtub."
To that extent, the Panorama achieves its goal. The publication is a graphic designer's dream, with full-page charts on everything from "The Crisis in the Congo" to how to butcher a lamb. It is easy to read and aesthetically pleasing, and there's just no way people would get through Porterfield's 22,000-word investigation into the jumbled finances of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge if they read it on the Internet. Every piece of reporting is factual and accurate, and McSweeney's tendency toward honesty — the Congo is "confusing," the bridge's funds "impossible" to track — give it a we're-on-your-side tone rarely seen in print. Currently, none of its content can be found online. "The point is to have readers pay for what they read," says Eggers. "Imagine that!"
If I were the editor of a daily paper, I'd order a copy for everyone in my newsroom, give them a week to read through it and take notes, and then organize a full-day retreat to pick it all apart and figure out what brilliant ideas could be repackaged for our newspaper.
And if I just loved news and information and the feel of a newspaper, I'd order my own copy and enjoy it while a blizzard rages outside my window. Which is exactly what I'll do this weekend.