Introducing Paperweight

by Steve Watson in October 2010
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There’s been lots of excitement this week about the launch of i, the new newspaper from The Independent. But I’ve been caught up with Paperweight, a much smaller newspaper that has also just put out its first issue.

There aren’t many papers that manage to be simultaneously relevant and utterly irrelevant to the modern world, but Paperweight walks the line beautifully. The editor’s letter explains that the word ‘screen’ was first used as a media term 200 years ago, and the entire issue is dedicated to the bicentenary of the screen as a media device.

There’s an interview with a research scientist working at the forefront of cinema and television screen technology; a short history of the 19th-century showmen who used smoke screens to project ghostly apparitions; and an argument that these days the screen is neither here nor there – it’s the metadata that really matters.

The tone verges on the academic in places, but even when things become slightly opaque Paperweight remains fascinating. I’m afraid I couldn’t understand the levers and forces being explained in the piece on boatology, but the diagram of the standard rigging on a tall ship held my attention long after I’d stopped following the explanations.

Printed on lovely soft pink newsprint (apparently sourced from a remote paper mill in Sweden) Paperweight glories in its antiquated format. Its notices and announcements recall a time when printing a notice in a newspaper was actually the best way of informing people of births, deaths, marriages and appointments, and the masthead is an exercise in letterpress-inspired excess.

But for all that it revels in its olden days aesthetics, Paperweight still succeeds in bringing the reader something new – and not just by encouraging us to think afresh about the screens we use every day. Drilling down into the history of the screen throws up new stories from decades ago – for example I’d never heard of 50s interactive children’s TV star Winky Dink, and I only knew a fraction of the facts about the Zapfruder film of the assassination of JFK.

All in all Paperweight is an intelligent and exciting new arrival, best summed up in the editors’ poetic description of their purpose in the new paper:

“We are not the avant-garde but rather the messengers, running into the heat of battle and reporting back with dispatches. So we offer our readers a publication through which to reflect on new ideas of, and different approaches to, images and objects.”

Issue two should be out in the next few months, and with a bit of luck it will be making an appearance in a Stack delivery very soon.

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