I was struck by the firestorm of criticism leveled against Rolling Stone for its cover featuring the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. Most U.S. magazines and newspapers that are still publishing today have at one time or another ignited a controversy about their choice of cover photos. What I found curious about this latest controversy is why was there a new outcry? Virtually every news outlet across the U.S. has published photos of the suspected bomber.
I have to ask, is the cover of Rolling Stone the hallowed ground that it once was? Given the large number of magazines that are no longer publishing (or just online), does the cover still have the cache that it once did? And certainly in Rolling Stone’s case, the amount of “bad” publicity had to be good for sales of the magazine, or potentially get people who haven’t looked at the publication in a decade to possibly pick up the issue. And even though certain retailers have refused to sell this issue, there’s something to be said for censorship that makes it all the more enticing. However, in Rolling Stone’s case, 95 percent of its 1.47 million circulation number is monthly subscribers; that leaves just 75,000 copies for individual sales. Although, they likely printed more copies of this issue.
In recent years, Rolling Stone’s circulation numbers have remained steady, but it has seen a significant decrease in ad pages, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
And what did Rolling Stone have to say about its controversial cover?
“Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.”
Only time will tell whether this cover of Rolling Stone will have a lasting impact on the magazine’s popularity. Unfortunately for the magazine, the focus has not been on the story itself.