When Sensationalism Trumps Relevance
When I was younger and first getting in to the music scene, Rolling Stone magazine was the be-all end-all source of information. If Rolling Stone recommend a new album by an artist I’d never heard of, I bought it. If Rolling Stone recommended a new book or film, I sought it out as quickly as possible. In high school we passed around the magazine between classes as if it were contraband to be taken away at a moment’s notice. It was a constant quest to stay “in the know” for everything in music and popular culture.
Rolling Stone also has a celebrated history of reporting on the social, political, and economic changes that have shaped this country since the magazine’s inception in 1967. The magazine published articles from the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, PJ O’Rourke, Al Gore, and many more notable names.
Then there was the cover. To be on the cover of Rolling Stone was the Wheaties box of popular culture, a hallowed place. There are covers and back issues among my collection of music memorabilia that are some of my most treasured items.
Well, it’s been nearly twenty years since I traded an issue between classes, and a lot of things have changed since then. The music industry has gone through a litany of changes, to say nothing of the cultural upheaval of the past two decades.
The rise of the Internet came, and let’s be honest, isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Rolling Stone failed to change and adapt with the rest of the industry, and the hearts and minds of readers, mine included, were getting there information elsewhere, and in many places, directly from the source. The last time I can remember needing to rush out and buy the latest issue of Rolling Stone was well before I could vote.
Fast forward, a long way, to the present day. It was revealed today that the next issue of Rolling Stone would contain a cover feature about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger, and still alive, brother of the two that carried out the Boston Marathon bombing in April – giving celebrity status to someone who killed three innocent people and injured 264 others.
There is no integrity in this act. There is no merit for journalistic intent when the cover is a teen-idol-style photograph of a killer. There is nothing but disgust, outrage, and shame.
The victims and their families deserve better than to have a glamour picture of Tsarnaev plastered across stores and newsstands throughout the country.
This is sensationalism for the sake of magazine sales, and it is a disgrace.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not a celebrity. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not a rock star. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not a martyr.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a terrorist.
Everyone associated with the publication of Rolling Stone, from publishers and editors to writers and photographers and even advertisers and distributors should be hanging their heads today for what they have been a party to. Advertisers themselves should be calling for immediate removal of any products within the magazine.
Yet sadly I expect none of that to happen. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if this issue becomes one of their biggest sellers as the June 1970 issue did, which featured a cover photograph and feature about Charles Manson.
In the end, I’m the one left shaking my head.
Surely, we can, we must, do better.
Co-Founder / Editor-in-Chief