‘The only thing that doesn’t work is a single-media strategy’. These are the words of Michael Stoll, an American reporter and a director of the San Francisco Public Press, a nonprofit web start-up that looks to fill gaps in local news coverage that have arisen with the contraction of the mainstream press. Stoll extolls the virtues of a multi-platform approach to news, whereby Twitter or Web updates are used for breaking stories and print journalism becomes the outlet for analysis and commentary. Stoll was discussing his recent collaboration with Dave Eggers – the San Francisco-based publishers McSweeneys attempt to both celebrate and re-invigorate the medium of print journalism – the £10-a-copy newspaper Panorama.
Eggers, the editor-in-chief, has found his star rising recently due to his screenplay for cinema smash Where The Wild Things Are. For those unaware though, Eggers was already the literary wunderkind of the noughties. A champion of the short story Eggers revived the art-form with the creation of independent publishing house McSweeneys back in 2000 with the proceeds from his delightful novel, ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’. The cornerstone publication, McSweeneys Quarterly Concern, is a boundary-pushing cult phenomenon which has carved out a niche of hipsterdom for new writing and spawned it’s own stereotypical reader – read a brief history of the publication and about the damage done to one blogger by the McSweeneys reference in the indie flick Juno here.
But Eggers is not one to kick back on his cool; McSweeneys love the writing cause. Added to the array of work the publishing house do with children’s & writing charities they decided to save the dying art of newspaper journalism. “Our hope,” Eggers notes in conversation with the LA Times, “is that readers will say, ‘I forgot all these things that newsprint can do.’ I think it’s life-affirming when you say, ‘Let’s just write it at the length it needs to be and not keep shrinking everything.’ ”
The 320-page broadsheet newspaper Panorama, issue no.33 of McSweeneys Quarterly Concern, was published in December last year and it’s first run of 25,000 has been completely gobbled up by awe-struck readers, “Panorama very nearly brought tears to my eyes. Everyone I know who has seen it has been similarly overwhelmed and overjoyed.” said Allison Arieff, the New York Times “By Design” blogger. A further run has been announced. At the moment a second-hand copy will currently set you back over a hundred dollars on Amazon.com.
Among the centerpieces of the Panorama is an investigative piece by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Porterfield, looking into cost overruns in the renovation of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It’s an effort undertaken in conjunction with SF Public Press, “The Panorama is a perfect partner,” says Stoll, “they share the same love of the medium but haven’t joined the stampede that has given up print for dead.”
The Porterfield investigation will encompass more than 10,000 words and half a dozen graphic elements, split between a main piece and several sidebars. It’s the kind of thing, Eggers notes, that is hard to do online.
So print journalism as art appreciation? The medium itself celebrated for its depth and possibility? Well perhaps in the Eggers imagined future, ‘We started thinking, what if you offered the same sort of depth, analysis, literary value that you get in a magazine? When people sit down, they want to have an experience, and if you surprise them on every page, curate it in such a way that it’s constantly surprising and constantly delighting, I think you could keep them.”
Twittered over and highly desirable ten-quid broadsheets spanning hundreds of pages with local investigative journalism at heart? Welcome to the niche future of news.
p.s You can also try Five Dials, a free literary PDF subscription magazine from Hamish Hamilton. Issued via the web it beats with a heart of print as it instructs readers to print out and enjoy. Look out for the David Foster-Wallace special hitting the web-stands soon.
p.p.s Thanks to the LA Times for the quotes.