McSweeney's 'Panorama' Newspaper Arrives -- With Special Probe of SF Bay Bridge Project

By: E&P Staff The much-anticipated special newspaper edition of the journal McSweeney's arrived today in San Francisco, titled Panorama, and selling for $16. It is, of course, a colorful, smart-looking and smart-reading pub but it's key feature may be good old hard news journalism.

The press release from them explains it well so we are just going to reprint it here, with followup to come.

Today, McSweeney's releases issue 33 of its quarterly publication, a 300-page, 15" by 22" broadsheet newspaper called the San Francisco Panorama, featuring a 15,000-word report on the earthquake retrofitting and partial reconstruction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The report, complete with sidebars and infographics, is a collaboration by four disparate media organizations: McSweeney's, which provided the inspiration for the article, a place for it to be published and some financial support; SF Public Press, which recruited and managed a team of journalists to report, write and edit the piece; Spot.Us, which raised the remainder of the funding through its community funding platform, and the San Francisco Chronicle, which is helping to sell and distribute copes of the Panorama as McSweeney?s exclusive presenter of the publication in the Bay Area.

The idea for the article was conceived when Dave Eggers, editor of McSweeney?s, announced the quarterly?s plan to produce a single-edition newspaper of its own to "demonstrate the many things that newspapers can do uniquely well, and how necessary they are to a thriving democracy." Michael Stoll, project director for the Public Press, heard about the Panorama project and wanted to be involved.

"We were thrilled when we first heard about the Panorama project because we also have a strong interest in seeing that local print journalism doesn't wither from lack of innovation,? Stoll said.

Eggers asked the Public Press to produce a report accounting for all the money spent on the new Bay Bridge, which he considered the biggest unreported story in the Bay Area. The Public Press recruited veteran, award-winning journalist Bob Porterfield and colleague Patricia Decker, who has a background in structural engineering, to write the story.

"Hundreds of thousands of people cross the Bay Bridge every day, but hardly anyone has a clear idea about how much replacing the eastern half with a new span is going to cost the public," Eggers said. "By spending nearly three months closely reading tens of thousands of pages of documents from public agencies, the reporters on this project have constructed one of the most comprehensive explanations of how the price of this vital infrastructure has spiraled out of control over the years. In that sense, it's accountability journalism at its best."

McSweeney's contributed $5,000 toward the story, but the Public Press needed twice that amount to fund months of full-time reporting and to cover the cost of retrieving reams of public documents to report the story. For the rest of the funding, they turned to Spot.Us, the community funded journalism site that started in San Francisco in November 2008. Journalists are able to "pitch" stories to the community on Spot.Us, where prospective readers then fund stories with individual donations. Since launching, Spot.Us has funded more than 40 Bay Area projects and recently expanded to Los Angeles as part of a partnership with the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California.

The Bay Bridge report became even more relevant on Oct. 27 when two steel rods and a crossbeam from a steel saddle broke off and crashed onto the bridge, striking three vehicles. No one was seriously hurt, but the bridge was completely shut down for six days for repairs. During the closure, interest in the report heightened and the Public Press fliered crowded BART stations asking riders to make donations of $4 ? the cost of one bridge toll ? through the Spot.Us funding page. To date, 140 people have contributed to the story through Spot.Us.

"This is an exciting project that shows what can happen when various players in the journalism community come together to do reporting in the public interest,? said Spot.Us founder David Cohn. ?This is exactly the kind of stuff Spot.Us wants to support. Every player brought something unique, and with the support of the public we were able to execute."?

The San Francisco Chronicle will begin to sell and distribute the Panorama on Tuesday, December 8th as well as publishing selected content as the exclusive presenter in the Bay Area. "The Panorama may be the biggest, most creative and famously bylined edition of a newspaper ever printed," said Ward Bushee, the Chronicle?s editor and executive vice president. "It reflects McSweeney's devotion to newspapers. We are delighted to exclusively be a part of it."

Stoll said that the collaboration with McSweeney?s is perfectly timed for the Public Press and Spot.Us, which have teamed up to fund several reporting projects.

"Staffing cutbacks in mainstream news organizations have made in-depth reporting about even the biggest public works projects less common. This story was the product of an exciting collaboration among a diverse array of young, innovative journalism and publishing ventures focused on bringing complex issues of public concern to light.?

?SF Public Press started publishing online-only this year, but in the long term we are interested in furthering the vision of the Panorama ? that a smartly written and designed daily newspaper can help inform neglected audiences, pay professionals for their work and add to the competitive journalism landscape of San Francisco."
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