Rolling Stone got it half right.
July 18, 2013
July 18, 2013
The cover story is a look at “how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam & became a monster,” to put it in the magazine's words. It is predicated, in part, on how those around Tsarnaev never saw his heinous crimes coming; how those of us who may have seen him at some point in time would not have thought twice as he passed us by. The photograph that donned the cover illustrates that perfectly. When you cast aside emotions, the picture forces you to ask “is this what a terrorist looks like” and “is there even a definitive look for a terrorist.” But really, the question it should generate is “how.” The article attempts to explain that. This is the part where the praise for Rolling Stone ends. The choice by the magazine to put Tsarnaev on the cover was a mistake. There are various theories as to why they ran with the cover they did. Operating under the premise that the cover was a “picture tells a thousand words” type intro of what to expect with the article is the best case scenario for their decision. Anything else is yellow journalism. But there are certain connotations that come with the cover of this magazine. While it's known for its musical journalism, it has a long history of investigative pieces. Still, there is a cultural understanding that the cover of Rolling Stone means something. You may remember there was even a song written about what the cover means back in the 70s. They have to be cognizant of what their cover represents. Even if Rolling Stone had the best intentions, it shows a glaring lack of sensitivity, especially toward victims. That is not to say the topic should be whispered, buried or avoided. Rather, this represents a lack of journalistic balance. Journalism aims to inform, but it must be mindful of the public that it is intended to serve. Rolling Stone forgot (or ignored) that when they decided on this cover. Now, the cover is dominating the discussion and will, undoubtedly, become part of the Boston Marathon bombing media analysis in future journalism ethics courses. The cover may have driven some to read the story, but many will shun it out of principle. Whatever the result, Rolling Stone managed to bury their own writer's story, drawing attention elsewhere. How could Rolling Stone have avoided this? Simple. Don't put his face on the cover. Had Rolling Stone gone with the celebrity du jour on the cover and featured the Tsarnaev story in the magazine there would have been no outrage, even if the photo accompanied the story and the blurb featured on the cover remained. Journalists can sometimes groan when it comes to editorial restraint, but sometimes it's necessary. And to critics who would dismiss that as hiding the story, I'd like to remind you that the most important Rolling Stone story in years, if not ever, did not receive a cover. Instead, someone who encapsulated the spirit of the magazine's cover did. The Tsarnaev cover invites all of the criticism of celebrating a murderer's celebrity. By Sean Hathaway, Account Coordinator at Solomon McCown For more SM& reactions to the cover of Rolling Stone, click here.