Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On the cover of the Rolling Stone

The latest cover of Rolling Stone has people chattering:

This Newseum Facebook thread encapsulates the debate nicely.
Specifically, many are objecting to this suspected killer's face adorning a prominent spot on a popular magazine. Every time something of this magnitude happens, we revisit this debate — and given how often mass killings occur and how much media we consume nowadays, it's amazing we ever leave it.

For the record, I have no problem with this cover. Why? My reasons are best stated by countering some of the most prevalent criticism:

"Why put his face on the cover?"

Because he's more important of a newsmaker than Willie Nelson. 

"The photo makes Dzhokar look dreamy."

If that's an unretouched photo, they have every right to run it. Yes, it looks like he's a retro hipster icon, but maybe that's a point worth considering. The teaser's subhead implies that he was a popular American kid who fell into some destructive ideology. How? If only there was a way to find out...

"This guy doesn't deserve the attention he craves."

Investigative journalism is not a yearbook page — it's an acknowledgment of news and those who are behind it. When done right, it serves a vital educational purpose. The public deserves to know the particulars of any major event, especially tragedies, and the relevant factors underlying those events. To censor such over concerns of vanity is immature and insulting to society.

"This will just inspire copycat killers."

If Dzhokar Tsarnaev and his brother were sick enough to perpetrate a bombing, I doubt meriting the cover of Rolling Stone was especially high on the inspiration checklist.

"They'll run anything to make a buck."

If that were true, Rolling Stone would run gossip queens on every cover, because scandal rags are among the few print publications not struggling these days. Running a cover that might alienate thousands of buyers is the opposite of money-grubbing.

"Stick to music."

Rolling Stone never has stuck to music, either in its pages or on its cover. I subscribed for years mainly for its political analysis, which is some of the best in the business thanks to Matt Taibbi, Tim Dickinson, et al. (Taibbi even writes about the NFL occasionally.) I have some issues from the 1970s that are about the same content mix. The magazine may not be the countercultural force it was decades ago when such an impact was possible, but its heart remains where it always was.

Good for them. It benefits us all.

3 comments:

The Mandi Monster said...

I'm with you on this. People need to quit being so sensitive about this kind of stuff. He's on the cover because he didn't start out as a killer/bomber. How he got to that point is definitely a cover worthy story...at least in my opinion. What pushes good people to do horrific things? By the picture on the cover, he looks like an average kid who should be doing normal things. The story inside should explain what pushed him past the brink of normalcy and into the the shadows of murder and hatred. They're not glorifying what he did. They're covering the truth about him and where he was before he became what we know him as now.

Ian McGibboney said...

Which is exactly why RS was right to position the story they way they did — it's by far the most timely and enlightening article in the issue.

I spent years working at a newspaper, deciding how articles should play on front pages. From that standpoint, I disagree with people who say this should have been a sidebar. And as empathetic as I am, I would be appalled if the press censored itself over emotions. While tabloid-style exploitation is cheap, so is suppressing news because someone somewhere might not want to look at it. So I'm glad RS stuck to its journalistic guns.

The Mandi Monster said...

I agree whole-heartedly. I think people just want to be up in arms about something so they find whatever they can to be upset about. This isn't something worth getting upset about. They didn't make him out to be a rockstar. They told the story.