Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

mcsweeney’s captures the gone grandeur of the twentieth-century newspaper.

Issue 33 of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern takes the form of The San Francisco Panorama. Published on giant newsprint, the latest creation of Dave Eggers and gang is a kind of romanticized, fetishized idealization of the classic urban daily. It’s a brilliantly strange move, for the articles zip and zap with the energy and flash of an online news aggregator, but they make you recall the sheer beauty and thrill of the newspaper.

McSweeney’s issue 33: The San Francisco Panorama.

The San Francisco Panorama reminds one of what made the newspaper so great as an object: it compressed the feeling of living in a metropolis into a satchel. It was destined for scrap paper, butcher wrap, fire kindling, and, in more recent times, the recycling pile. It was merely a common part of everyday life. At the same time, in its heyday, the newspaper was perhaps the most important, vital, miraculous, valuable thing you owned: for without it you were stranded, lost, alone, without company, even the company of strangers. Within its columns, one accessed civilization.

McSweeney’s issue 33 recovers this feeling by its transposition of the urban daily to magazine form. You are pretending to read the daily here. The pleasure is the same as entering a great antique store. You wonder, why would anyone ever give this stuff up?

Then, clicking away, screened from the past, you realize that only when nobody wants yesterday’s papers do we start to appreciate the newsprint all over our fingers.

3 thoughts on “Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

  1. The problem with the Panorama—however beautiful it is to behold, as most McSweeney’s productions are—is that it economically makes no sense. Others have done the math for us, see here:

    http://www.theawl.com/2009/12/by-the-numbers-mcsweeneys-san-francisco-panorama-newspaper-experiment

    This wouldn’t be a big deal—lots of great works of art are/were not profitable, and lord knows there’s a danger in judging things simply by their commercial value—except that Mr. Eggers has presented this newspaper as an object lesson in how newspapers can be still be profitable, when his experiment shows the opposite. It’s romantic and all, but it’s a failure on its own terms, and as such, I’m not sure it doesn’t do more harm than good in trying to convince people of the value of professional journalism

    1. I agree with you and disagree with Eggers.

      Just to be clear (in case I wasn’t in the post), what I am trying to convey is the feeling that The Panorama is important precisely because it has turned a commonplace item, what was once a profitable commodity, into a work of art, a useless beauty (nod to Elvis Costello). You know, Ballantine beer cans, Brillo boxes, and all that.

      I think of those much-quoted lines WCW wrote: It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there. Part of what The Panorama says to me is exactly what Choire implies on The Awl: this paper doesn’t work as a business venture. But that’s because there’s something wrong with business, not with newspapers.

      Thanks for the link. The comments to Choire’s post are fab and witty!

  2. Well put Culture Rover. Judged as an art object, it’s really lovely, and the WCW quotation is apt—brilliant lines I’d completely forgotten about. But as with those beer cans and those steel wool boxes, this experiment turns the newspaper into a museum object—a relic of the 19th and 20th centuries.

    So, yes, newspapers are awesome, or were awesome. It’s the business that needs fixing.

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