McSweeny’s Eulogy for Newspapers
by Tim Stelloh, December 9, 2009
A curious invention hit the streets of SF yesterday: The San Francisco Panorama, a one-day only, 320-page, $5-on-the-street broadsheet, created by the folks at McSweeny's.
That's 112 pages of news, sports, food and comics; 96 pages of books; and a 112-page magazine. Contributors include Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Junot Diaz, John Ashbery and a boatload of other excellent writers and artists whose names you'll probably never see in a broadsheet again. (There's also an investigative piece about the environmental impacts of the Mendo dope trade.)
What's the point? Via an NY Times Q&A with Dave Eggers:
One of the original goals was to prove that you could put out a newspaper without a billion dollars and a circulation of 500,000. There are so many thriving small newspapers out there, and the transaction is usually so simple: the reader pays $1 for the physical newspaper, and the newspaper stays in business. So we were hoping to prove that with a paid circulation of even 10,000, you could do the real work a newspaper should do: cover the city’s news, look to the world as a whole, analyze, explain, investigate and entertain. And along the way, we hoped to show some of the parts of the paper that used to commonly exist and probably could or should exist again.
I've yet to see the thing--though I'm sure it's beautiful, as most everything McSweeny's does is. Yet I can't help but chuckle at one of their other purported goals: "To be a 21st-Century Newspaper Prototype."
I doubt your average newspaper--if print sticks around at all--will in any way resemble a bloated, artful reimagining of the medium's halcyon days. My wager is they'll look more like our so-called papers in Mendocino County: heavy on the press releases and minute-by-minute government meeting transcriptions, lean on news judgement, enterprise and investigations.
I hope I'm wrong--I hope newspapers get their financial calculus right and invest in reporting instead of moronic gimmicks. For the most part, the dinosaurs aren't breaking that ground; rather, it's websites like the Voice of San Diego, the Texas Tribune and Pro Publica.
At least from their PR, the Panorama doesn't seem so much like a prototype as a novelty, a piece of art that belongs in a museum, a glorious farewell into that good night.