During the years of the dot-com boom, Eggers illustrated and wrote "Smarter Feller", a
half-page SF Weekly comic strip commenting on local public affairs and other ironies.
For a time, his characteristic drawing of "the Feller," a pointy-nosed
stick figure, was inseparable from this paper's identity.
Then he got a
job at Esquire, wrote a book, worked in movies, etc., and his Smarter Feller cartoons became relegated to aging, red-bound volumes of SF Weekly past issues we keep here on a shelf.
To our mind, his work here -- the most prominent thing he did until the publication of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius -- was nothing to be ashamed of. But a close read of his comments about newspapers, how they make money, and the value of the the full-time staff that produces them suggest that it may not be shame that keeps him from recalling his newspaper past. He may have actually forgotten about his time as a regular newspaper contributor, thus explaining his apparent confusion about how real, day-to-day, week-to-week newspapers work.
To kick the interview off, Eggers goes on a bit about how he prefers reading the printed page instead of computer screens. He then segues to his theory of publishing economics:
Eggers: "To me, the print business model is so simple, where readers pay a
dollar for all the content within, and that supports the enterprise.
The web model is just so much more complicated, and involves this third
party of advertisers, and all these other sources of revenue that are
sort of provisional, but haven't been proven yet. We've lost that very
simple transaction that's so pure, where a reader can say, "I support
what you're doing, here's my dollar. I know that you guys are gonna be
watchdogs or keep the government accountable, so here's my 50-cent
contribution each day." It's just so tidy, and I think so inspiring."
The full-time newspaper staff at Eggers' former employer ask, "good for whom?"
Eggers: "I should emphasize that I take pains to make sure no one thinks I know
their business better than they do, because I don't. We're just
underlining some of the things they already know. A lot of the old
model will have to be examined, and I think in a good way, especially
when they have to cut their full-time staff. The partnerships add new
brains to the operation."