Inferences From A Magazine Rack

When you’re killing time during a long layover in an airport, and a Hudson News is the only non-fast food place to visit, you tend to check out the magazine rack. So, what does the generic airport magazine rack tell you?

First, it tells you that magazines aren’t exactly thriving. The current magazine rack is pretty shrimpy by comparison to the full wall of magazines you found in the old days. Airport book options are shrinking, too.

Second, it suggests that modern Americans aren’t all that interested in serious reading. Once you go past The Economist, you’ve pretty much exhausted the serious reading category. Time and Newsweek have become the print equivalent of clickbait and don’t even try to present themselves as serious journalism. The rest of the shelves are devoted to the celebrity culture and the Royals — which is pretty much the same thing. How many interviews with, say, Taylor Swift is a person going to read?

And third, has any celebrity couple been the subject of a longer run in the romantic speculation/break-up/make-up category than Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt? Didn’t they first hit the gossip rags more than 20 years ago? And yet here they are, the subject of rumor and speculation and disclosures by purported insiders. In the history of American popular culture, is there any other couple that has had greater tittle-tattle staying power than these two?

Dzhokhar, On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone magazine is featuring Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, on the cover of its next issue.  The decision to make Dzhokhar the Cover Boy has some people in the social media very riled.

They think the cover photo makes Tsarnaev into a rock star and glams up an accused terrorist.  Rolling Stone defends the cover, saying the story is legitimate journalism that explores how a young man, in the same age range as many Rolling Stone readers, became involved in a “tragedy.”  (I’m not sure that “tragedy” is quite the right word to describe an intentional bombing specifically designed to kill innocents, but let’s pass on that issue.)  The headline on the cover says:  “THE BOMBER:  How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam, and Became a Monster.”

I’m not quite grasping what the big deal is.  I’m not falling for the Rolling Stone statement about “serious journalism” as a justification for the decision.  You could do a serious piece about Tsarnaev without putting his tousled mug on the cover.  I’m sure Rolling Stone, like every other magazine, hopes that the cover will attract the eye of casual newsstand browsers and lead to increased sales.  There’s nothing wrong with that; Rolling Stone just doesn’t want to admit it.  The fact that the cover already has become controversial and provoked lots of chatter probably was something the magazine was hoping for, too.

But really — who cares if Tsarnaev is on the cover of Rolling Stone?  Do people really believe that anyone will become a terrorist in hopes that he, too, will make a magazine cover?  And what’s with the “glorification” argument?  Tsarnaev’s cover photo has already been on the front page of just about every news website; I don’t remember any outcry about glamming then.  Are people really arguing that, any time a terrorist act is committed, newspapers and websites can’t publish a photo that makes the suspect look like anything other than a deranged killer?  That seems silly.

So let Rolling Stone publish its piece, and let it try to sell a few extra magazines in doing so.  I’d like to see some real digging into what happened to the Tsarnaev brothers, to see whether there is something we can do to prevent the next terrorist attack.  Maybe if Rolling Stone sells out this issue, more journalists will cover that very important story.

Newsweek No More

A few days ago, Newsweek announced that it will be ending its print edition, effective December 31, 2012.  The newsmagazine will go to an on-line format in early 2013.

I’m not surprised by Newsweek‘s demise, and I suspect I’m not alone.  When was the last time you subscribed to Newsweek or bought one at a newsstand?  We subscribed to Newsweek, as well as Time, Sports Illustrated, Sport, Life, Look, and other magazines when I was a kid, but Kish and I haven’t subscribed to any newsmagazine in years.  (The only periodicals we get these days are the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, and by Kish’s edict we’ll get them until the 12th of Never.)  I can’t remember the last time I bought, or even read, Newsweek.

When I pass newsstands in airports and give a quick glance to the magazine rack, Newsweek always seems to feature some bold, intentionally controversial headline about some social or political issue.  It’s as if the magazine is consciously designed to try to entice passersby into plunking down their money to see whether the article is really as provocative as the cover indicates.  It’s somewhat pathetic, and it is a far cry from the sober, objective, we-cover-the-important-issues-of-the-world-in-depth approach that newsmagazines took during the ’60s and ’70s.

The print media is dying; the internet is killing it.  Weekly magazines can’t compete with on-line content that is delivered immediately and without the costs of paper, delivery postage, and so forth.  Even if you subscribe to on-line content providers — and I typically don’t — you are paying less and getting more, more quickly, than magazines or newspapers can provide.  There’s no way print can compete unless it moves into a niche that the web doesn’t provide.  General reporting on national and world affairs, such as Newsweek used to provide, isn’t such a niche.