SF Panorama: Definitely Worth the $16
If you weren't able to track down a newsy on Tuesday and snag the McSweeney's Panorama for $5, rest assured that it's available at many local bookstores and it is, in fact, worth the $16. (Considering the content, it's probably worth more than that, but shhhh.) But don't expect to read it on the plane to wherever you're going for the holidays. It's heavy, cumbersome, and the broadsheet used is larger than that used by regular newspapers, making it nearly impossible to read in a tight space. The two included magazines, the Panorama Book Review and the Panorama Magazine, are oversized and also a bit awkward but more manageable than the paper.
That said, the beautifully executed Panorama is a treasure chest of writing, photography, illustration, and, my favorite, infographics. No space is left underutilized. Frankly, even advertisers seem to have stepped up their game for this—the ads in The Panorama are more well designed than the average newspaper ads. There are many layers of content—literally and figuratively—to dig through, making its exploration a process. First, you'll want to just look at it, delicately peeling the pages apart, reacquainting yourself with the familiar yet possibly forgotten heap of sections that make up a newspaper. Headlines and images will begin to catch your eye and you'll find yourself reading sidebars, maybe a story or two, noting things you'll return to once you make an initial sweep. But naturally, you'll get sucked into stories and start reading, and you'll quickly realize that these aren't your average-length newspaper articles. This is well composed long-form journalism, embodying the styles of both magazine and newspaper writing.
The paper isn't exclusively San Francisco content, but there's no question that it is from here. There's a full section devoted to the Bay Bridge debacle, a piece on how the Mendocino's marijuana industry impacts the local environment, and even a dissection of an Excelsior mural buried in Arts One. The food section includes "Lambchetta in 58 Steps," a photo essay worth the spread that shows the 58 steps it takes Ryan Farr to bring a lamb from slaughter to the table. The opinion section—called here "Opinion and Analysis"—doesn't consist of formulaic op-eds forced into 700-word limits. The Panorama's pieces are thoughtful and long, the writers given space to really play with ideas, as in Wendy Todd's piece about Michelle Obama. Andrew Sean Greer's piece in the Panorama Magazine—about attending a NASCAR race in Michigan with his husband—is one of the funniest and, frankly, best pieces of non-fiction I've read this year. I would also like to thank Michael Chabon for reminding me of how much I love Big Star. There's fiction, too, and as you'd expect from McSweeney's, it's very good.
There's not just one crossword, there are 3, with a separate set of clues that span all three puzzles. As for art, it doesn't just enhance the writing, it is content unto itself. The infographic of San Francisco music history is wall-worthy and each album review includes a "Track Enjoyment" graph that shows the ups and downs of the album track-by-track. By the Numbers on the back of the second arts section, a collaboration between GOOD and McSweeney's, is an infographic nerd's factoid paradise.
The Panorama is as much a tactile experience as it is a discovery of content and while we'd all love to see newspapers reinvent themselves in this way, it's just not possible given the realities of budgets, deadlines, and resources. The Panorama won't save the newspaper industry but that wasn't its intention. It's an impressive and inspiring salute and reminds us of the potential of the newspaper—and print in general—to impress and engage us in ways that online content simply can't. The Panorama is both a revival of something lost and a prototype of something perhaps no longer possible.