Reports of the death of the newspaper are greatly exaggerated. Long live the newspaper. So says bestselling author Dave Eggers, who with a small editorial team, published Panorama, a 320-page newspaper that sold out its 20,000 print-run in December.

The prolific publisher discussed the newspaper business as a guest of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism at Sibley Auditorium last night. Another 20,000 copies of Panorama have been printed and they were moving like, well, hot cakes after his slide show and chat.

Eggers, who co-founded the young writers program and cool pirate paraphernalia storefront 826 Valencia in San Francisco, knew how to reach the audience of mostly students. Some 108 million people read a paper every day in the U.S., he told them. How many watched last Sunday’s Super Bowl? Just 106 million. “So suck it, Super Bowl,” he joked.

Joining Eggers on the podium were his McSweeney’s colleagues (and former San Francisco Chronicle editors) Oscar Villalon and Jesse Nathan, as well as J-School faculty member Deirdre English.

The Panorama team’s advice on how to make newspapers a viable option in the online age:

  • Bigger is better: Think broadsheet, like many papers sold around the globe.
  • Update design to reach a younger crowd.
  • Bring back old ideas: Cool color comics. Pull-outs and posters. Humor. Long articles that don’t jump. A robust book review section. Investigative reporting.
  • Pursue a small-business model and maintain independence.
  • Don’t give content away for free.

Panorama is a prototype meant to inspire others to start newspapers in their own communities. “We wanted to resurrect the best parts of this beautiful form and pay homage to an old craft that’s in danger of being steamrolled out of our lives,” says Eggers, who has no plans himself of becoming a regular newspaper publisher, citing a lack of resources and the demands of family life.

But the Bay Area is ripe for such an undertaking and stocked with talent to make it a success, he believes. And there is demand: One of the “newsies” distributing Panorama in Berkeley last year didn’t even make it to his corner before he had to call for more copies. He sold out almost as soon as he got out of his car.

An old-school kinda guy, Eggers confesses to finding reading on the Internet stressful.  ‘My heart beats faster, there are so many distractions. I know I’m one-click away from cat porn.”

His is a minority view in this digital era where another newspaper seems to bite the dust every week.  Yesterday, The Berkeley Daily Planet, the weekly advocacy paper, announced it will stop print publication at the end of this month and move to providing only online coverage.

What say you, people? Is dead-tree journalism, ah, dead?

Berkeleyside contributor and Berkeley resident Sarah Henry is the author of food blog Lettuce Eat Kale.

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8 Comments

  1. The ritual of the printed word: we started subscribing to a daily last year, after 10 years of never subscribing. We wanted to begin a daily ritual of sitting as a family and reading something together, every day. Even our entry-level 5-yr-old reader can find fragments to enjoy and share with others at the table over the toast and the cheerios.

  2. Arrggh! Quibble away, Dan, I just checked my notes. Goof on my part: It should have been 108 million readers of newspapers per day and, as you correctly note, 106 million watched the Super Bowl. So the error was mine, not Eggers, and his point still stands.

    Thanks for the catch, which I will correct right now.

  3. Not to quibble, but I think a journalist might want to do some fact-checking on this — “How many watched last Sunday’s Super Bowl? Just 1.6 million.”

    I don’t think so! According to NFL.com, this year’s Super Bowl was the country’s most-watched television show in history with an audience of 106 million.

    Whether you agree with Eggers’ broader point or not, this argument certainly doesn’t support it.

  4. Tracey: There wasn’t a lot of talk about the costs involved in this endeavor. I get the sense that Eggers isn’t a number cruncher. He did say the writers, photographers, designers, and editors were paid, though nobody got rich off the undertaking.

    Last night, and in coverage elsewhere, he’s made noises about a publisher being able to break even, if they have a small print run (say 10,000) and charge readers $1-$2 for a paper. But no word on what the final tally amounted to for producing the San Francisco Panorama.

    Mark: Your points are well taken. Eggers is all for a non-corporate model to ensure the survival of newspapers.

    Rachel: On my mantel sits a photo of my towheaded toddler (now 11) mimicking his parents at breakfast “reading” the paper — the sports section, like your sons. It’s one of my favorites.

  5. I subscribe to three newspapers a week, two are dailies, one is a weekly. I love to read the paper in bed at the end of the day. It’s a ritual that I have no interest in replacing with my laptop. That being said, just recently I’ve started to feel inundated with paper. And there are days when I’m merely skimming the news. But still, I continue to subscribe, because they provide me with both a ritual and current local/state/national news. (Though they’ve got nothing on BerkeleySide for my hyperlocal news.)

    I did buy Panorama, and it sits in a separate newspaper pile next to my bed. I will read it in the way that I read the New Yorker, with not much regard to *when* I read it. I think I’ll get to it in August when I’m on vacation.

    Just the other morning, one of my not-yet-reading-boys crawled into my bed with the Sporting Green to look at the Super Bowl coverage. He looked at that newspaper for a good 20 minutes — it made me glad.

  6. I love the Panorama–been leafing through my copy for a few weeks, and Eggers is one of my heroes. But I wonder if the publisher centric, 19th century business model for news has a prayer of surviving. Should it survive? Is a profit driven, corporate financed, environmentally shameful method for delivering news really the best alternative?

    Ultimately, though, the argument about ink-dots on paper versus pixels on a monitor is a smokescreen for the bigger conflict between public interest journalism and Wall Street driven media. Of course it’s more relaxing and less distracting to read from a broadsheet. The problem is that the cost of that paper and ink delivery system is much more significant than just the 50¢ or $1.00 cover price of the paper. By cost, I mean the cost to society. To make the paper attractive to advertisers and investors, publishers need to compromise in ways that Eggers didn’t need to compromise when publishing the Panorama. Those compromises may be extremely costly.

    In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, many on the left accused the press of shirking its responsibility to uncover and expose the Bush Administration’s misinformation campaign. Under a system where publishers answer to their stockholders and large advertisers, it seems naive to expect that they would have acted differently than they did. Newsrooms may want to claim that they are unfettered and free to investigate all angles of a story. But if that’s true, why did so many newsrooms fail to get to the truth about Dick Cheney’s agenda?

    The corporate media machine failed to serve the public interest in the run-up to the war. The cost to society for this catastrophic failure is astronomical. Likewise, the media’s failure to adequately report on the potential devastation that would result from the unfettered and unregulated finance industry. These are just two recent examples of why we need a better paradigm for the fourth estate.

    The corporate interests that undergird the national media in this country have a vested interest in keeping the light away from their operations. We need a better model. Freedom comes with responsibility. A free press needs to take responsibility for fulfilling a civic obligation. Is that even possible within the corporate driven system we have now? Whether papers fulfill their civic responsibility with ink on paper or bits and bytes on a server is largely irrelevant. What is crucial is that journalists act in the best interest of a free society.

    I assume that the Berkeley J-School is an academic program — teaching students to be journalists (in the platonic sense) and not just a career training program.

  7. I wasn’t at the talk, but I would be interested to know whether Eggers addressed the question of how to produce a high-quality, profitable newspaper on a daily basis? He acknowledged the challenges faced by the “real” newspaper industry in an editorial in Panorama. Eggers had months to prepare his mega-paper and, I believe, many of his “big-name” writers contributed for free. That’s a luxury and a whole different story to putting out accurate, in-depth reporting each and every day.