McSweeney’s Panorama, Reviewed, Finally

Four months after I got McSweeney’s Panaroma in the mail, I’ve finally looked through it all. At the time of its release, there was a heap of hype among newspaper folks. I was struck by how the relative silence about the issue after it actually came out.

Here’s the explanation: it was kind of bad. Many of the articles felt unedited and overly long. The “beautiful” graphics were often overwrought, without any apparent concern for readability. The pages were huge, so huge that I found every possible reading position – at table, with cereal; seated on couch; laying down on couch; standing; spread out on floor; in bed – to be completely untenable.

There were highlights. George Saunders’ short story about the life of a fox was worth the cover price alone, and an exploration of the Mr. Romance Cover Model Competition. It’s telling that both of those articles were found in the several magazines that came with the paper.

It’s also telling that Eggers and Co. seemed to be desperate to apologize for what was inside the newspaper:

“This should not be taken as our definitive statement on what every page of a newspaper should look like. Rather, it’s a grab-bag of some of hte myriad things newsprint can do. And indeed there was much we did, and there was much we didn’t do.”

I came away from Eggers’ experiment feeling even less confident in the future of newspapers. If a team of creatives, given a fully year to produce one Sunday newspaper produce something that is more difficult to navigate, read, hold, then, well, perhaps the newspaper has reached an apex of usability and usefulness. Here’s to hoping that’s good enough for a while!

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