Imagine a Sunday newspaper with the following: World Series coverage from Stephen King, a love letter to NASCAR by Andrew Sean Greer, a New York Times-bestselling novelist (with his husband in tow), and a comics section weighing in at 16 pages, with work by Dan Clowes, Art Spiegelman and Adrian Tomine.
McSweeney’s, a San Francisco-based publishing company founded by Dave Eggers, is prepping for a late-November release of Issue 33 of their literary quarterly, which for one time only will come in the form of a Sunday broadsheet titled the San Francisco Panorama. At a time when most American papers are struggling to stay afloat, this issue is meant to be an homage to print journalism and all the great things it can do.
During an Authors Guild event held in his honour earlier this year, Eggers offered to personally correspond with anyone in need of a pep talk about the future of publishing. Besieged with needy e-mails, he ended up releasing a mass letter on the subject in which he wrote that if "you rework the newspaper model a bit, it can not only survive, but actually thrive." The challenge was to create "a physical object that doesn't retreat, but instead luxuriates in the beauties of print."
San Francisco Panorama is McSweeney’s’ model for a 21st-century newspaper. The formula for success, according to its publisher, Oscar Villalon, is simple: “Make a product that’s worth the cover price.” The fact that this is a one-off, $16 newspaper means it doesn't offer real tips for financial sustainability. Yet it is a beautifully produced work of print journalism, delivered in McSweeney's idiosyncratic voice (hyper-literate, self-aware, occasionally ironic) and vintage-meets-modern style. It features an introduction to NASA’s new space-weather research programme, an investigation into the cost overruns of the multi-billion-dollar retrofit of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge (by Bob Porterfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter), a guide to making the perfect bowl of ramen (by Momofuku’s celebrated chef David Chang) and an on-the-ground account of the fallout from the recent Afghan election.
Like many newspaper advocates, Villalon praises both the sensuality and serendipity of reading print. “Just flipping to get from one place to another you might stumble upon something that catches your eye," he says. "That’s not to say that the internet can’t do that, but it allows customisation to such a point that if you wanted to, you could just shut off the entire world and focus on the two or three things that matter to you. And you’d never be exposed to anything else.”
Villalon hopes some newspapers will be inspired by this experiment. “Give value to people who are willing to spend a little more to get the newspaper," he says. "You don’t have to break the news right away. You can give people the bigger picture—the story behind the story. What we’re saying is play to your strengths and understand your audience."
~ MELISSA GOLDSTEIN