Melissa Goldstein points out that at a cost of $16, 320 pages and several months of production time, Dave Eggers' latest print project, San Francisco Panorama, isn't going to provide a road map for the revival of the American newspaper industry. The one-off publication benefits from the work of authors like Michael Chabon, Miranda July, and Junot Diaz, and contains features like a gorgeous two-page, full-color spread introducing readers to "NASA's Living with a Star space-weather research program." Eggers' aim is to produce "a physical object that doesn't retreat, but instead luxuriates in the beauties of print." I'm not sure Eggers' reveling in the warm embrace of print is going to inspire the beleagured newspaper business. And he sets himself up as an easy target for a Gawker drive-by mocking of him. But I'm not so sure Eggers isn't still onto something. It just isn't something that applies to newspapers.
I'm a big fan of Eggers, and where his own storytelling has been most inspiring is where he's extended the form. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was both memoir and novel. Surviving Justice was a fascinating book-length and newsy collection of oral histories of the wrongly imprisoned. Wholphin is a DVD of experimental short films distributed like a monthly magazine. I think it's unfortunate that he's tied the Panorama so closely to paper, and even moreso to newsprint. The Web holds so much potential! But Eggers' track record of combining a willingness to innovate with a dedication to craft makes it foolish of us to dismiss him just because there's no clear way to turn this paper into a sustainable project that lives on newsprint.
In fact, I'm fairly salivating over how people could respond to Eggers' call to earnest, creative, considered storytelling -- but to ignore the part about newsprint and do it online instead. We could stand the course correction. In the Internet's early years, we saw bootstrapped experiments in storytelling that were really quite exciting, things like Steven Johnson's dearly departed FEED magazine and Jason Kottke's experimental 0sil8. There seemed to be so much promise, and an opportunity to paint the image of a world as we saw it and as we wanted it to be. Today, the Huffington Post is running a headline reading "Tiger Woods Sex (Video)" that points to a video of copulating tigers.
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