Forget all this talk about the death of print media for a moment. Tomorrow a newspaper is born in San Francisco. Issue 33 of McSweeney’s Quarterly will be a one-time-only, old-fashioned broadsheet — the San Francisco Panorama. Its pages will measure 22 by 15 inches. Here’s what this beautiful beast will cover: “It’ll have news (actual news, tied to the day it comes out) and sports and arts coverage, and comics (sixteen pages of glorious, full-color comics, from Chris Ware and Dan Clowes and Art Spiegelman and many others besides) and a magazine and a weekend guide, and will basically be an attempt to demonstrate all the great things print journalism can (still) do, with as much first-rate writing and reportage and design (and posters and games and on-location Antarctic travelogues) as we can get in there. Expect journalism from Andrew Sean Greer, fiction from George Saunders and Roddy Doyle, dispatches from Afghanistan, and much, much more.”
Exciting and ambitious for an 11-year-old literary journal, right? That’s why we sat down with Oscar Villalon, McSweeney’s publisher, to get the back story on the project.
How long did it take to put Panorama together? What were some of the challenges?
It took several months, with the Panorama’s incubation occurring in January. The challenges were plenty and they were just about all logistical. There’s a reason why newspapers need about 400 people to run them: It’s because there are many, many moving parts to be accounted for.
What are some of the features in Panorama that you’re most excited about?
It’s all very exciting, inasmuch as how beautifully designed and well-written it is throughout. But, for me, having been a book review editor for so long, I think the 96-page Book Review is lovely, a fine example of what newspaper book reviews can be. Not that they have to be that long, but that they should feel free to make them more “literary,” allow them to feature original fiction, to have playful charts and articles, and in general make them a playground of sorts for writers.
Other than putting out 300 pages of great content, what’s the goal of Panorama?
It would be to point out how wonderful a medium print remains for newspapers, and to remind folks of all the pleasures print can offer that the Internet can’t: posters, giant comics and illustrations and infographics; lengthy reportage that’s beautifully presented, etc. We’re not saying that it’s better than the Internet, but that it’s unique enough to warrant newspapers continue to publish in that medium.
I would add that newspapers can offer definitive, thorough analysis of breaking news (which TV, radio, and the Internet — including newspaper websites — can cover in real time but not immediately produce). Making sense of all the information that’s out there is critical, and it’s something, I think, that newspapers — in their print incarnation — are right now better equipped to do than anyone.
You were a newspaper man yourself for a while. What do you miss about it?
Late at night, going down to the basement lunch room and buying a sandwich out of the vending machine while waiting for a late story to come in. That, and knowing the names of more than 100 people at work, who all know your name, too, because at one time or another you’ve all been down at the basement late at night eating a godawful sandwich because you have to do your job, which you happen to love.