Hey, Dave Eggers: Panorama is Like Candlelight Dinner. We Wanted Apple Dippers.

Categories: Media
The future of journalism metaphors?
Last week, I brought Panorama with me on my morning commute. It was raining, and I was carrying more than 3 pounds of San Francisco literary history: huge, smooth-as-polyester broadsheet pages, gorgeous graphics, 350,000 brilliantly edited words. I thought I would read it on the train.

But it was crowded, and I couldn't unfold the gargantuan pages without elbowing the woman sitting next to me. Instead, I fretted about accidentally crumpling the cover page and damaging its historic resale value.

I got through exactly half of one article, Tom Barbash's profile of San Francisco 49ers president Jed York, which I had shuffled to the top of the stack. Then I gave up. With 10 sections of print innovation on my lap, I got out my smart phone and read the news on Twitter.

Most media people I know are really peeved about the hype surrounding Panorama. Part of this is because Dave Eggers has been lecturing about the future of news as if his homage to the Sunday paper were a crucial step in the evolution of journalism, rather than "an anthology printed on newsprint," as one erudite SF Weekly commenter put it last week.  

But the frustration goes deeper than this, mostly because Panorama is legitimately gorgeous, and because Eggers and his team brought together such a ridiculous amount of talent.

It's hard not to see Panorama as a wasted opportunity. "What bugs me the most," a Manhattan media pal wrote to me, "is that all the work Panorama put into design could actually have been really useful if it had been aimed at online publications. Because online newspaper and magazine sites, even the best ones, are still totally hideous."

Instead, Eggers and Co. spent a year fetishizing print -- which is fine if you believe, as he does, that paper "is still the most viable model" for delivering news. For the rest of us, reading Panorama is like participating in some ancient death ritual for the papers we grew up with. Farewell to the comics page. Farewell to the lifestyle section. Farewell to the pull-out book review section -- I'll miss you most of all.

As Gina Chen pointed out last year, the current angst over how Americans consume news is a lot like the ongoing angst about they consume other stuff, like food. Observers worry that Americans are no longer interested in the wholesome stuff, like hard-hitting investigations and watchdog reporting. Instead, everyone's eating out at the world wide web McDonald's, and it's starting to show. Look at our discourse. Look at our democracy.

Now into the melee comes Dave Eggers, playing the role of the annoying guy who preaches the obvious.

"You know," he tells us, kindly, "you would be so much happier if you sat down every night with your neighbors and ate a delicious, carefully prepared meal of locally sourced organic ingredients."

To which we reply, "No shit, Dave. Too bad we end up eating takeout at the office."

But he's not listening. He's going to prove how much better our lives can be by producing Panorama, the most exquisite media meal in history. He recruits his pals, Michelin-star chefs from around the country, to prepare the food. He has interns build a magnificent community dinner table from scratch. He orders artisanal tableware and beeswax candles produced by well-adjusted bees. It all takes nearly a year.

Finally, he invites us to the table."Eat!" he tells us. "This is what you should be doing every night!"

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