PopulaR and PRomising?

There was significant controversy this week surrounding the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. It wasn’t the content of the publication that upset a lot of people; it was its cover photo.

Rolling Stone coverBoston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is shown as a good-looking, decent young man; many said this glamorous portrayal affords him the same treatment usually reserved for a rock star.  Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said the cover “rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment.PostandCourier.com quoted Kathleen Hall Jamieson, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania: “I can’t think of another instance in which one has glamorized the image of an alleged terrorist.” Even folks like Maurizio Iacono of Canadian death metal band Kataklysm wrote, “Shooting sprees and bombing places are becoming a trend. Why? Because of the media making it so. ‘I’m nobody, I’m depressed, let me blow up something, so at the very least I’ll get my face on the cover of Rolling Stone. Now I’m somebody.”

What failed to become a significant part of the discussion was the photograph’s subhead, which read, “How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.”

It’s far more easily understood why the editors at Rolling Stone used that particular photograph when one factors in the caption.  The picture served to underline the “nice kid” aspect; it wasn’t meant to make him a rock star.

More cynically, one could argue that Rolling Stone used the photo for the publicity which the editors and/or publisher knew it would get.  Maybe this was a publicity no-brainer; it was a way to boost interest and sales by creating controversy.  That’s the Donald Trump School of Publicity for Publicity’s Sake: Say something or do something controversial so that people will pay attention to you. My guess is Rolling Stone used this particular cover photo for both reasons; the magazine put an appropriate illustration to its headline–and got a lot of people talking about it.  Your thoughts?

5 thoughts on “PopulaR and PRomising?

  1. Philip Rappaport

    Thought it was an amazing PR move…Do any of us agree with Tsarnaev’s actions? Of course not! But for Rolling Stone this was spot on. Whether or not people liked or agreed with the photo use is really irrelevant, the fact is that they are and have been discussing it. Great PR for Rolling Stone. I imagine that they even witnessed a small boost in either sales, or online viewership.

    Really do like Maurizio Iacono’s take on the issue itself as well.

  2. Lauren Brookmeyer

    Smart PR move by Rolling Stone! They certainly made headlines and scored national buzz for the week. However, even considering the subhead, the dreamy photo of the Bomber was completely insensitive to the citizens of Boston. Nevertheless, seems to have been a smart overall PR move.

  3. Ishan Kumar

    It is apparent that a cover picture like that would grab attention of many. I strongly feel that “Rolling Stone” controversy is just a publicity stunt, although they have highlighted the “B” word. More than glorifying an individual, the magazine is successful in stirring a controversy.
    A magazine of that magnitude should come up with different, innovative marketing skills.

  4. Perception In Print (@SCharleme)

    Regardless of the subhead, the photograph of Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, should have never appeared on the cover. To glorify an individual who was willing to kill countless men, women, and children, and partly succeeded in his efforts, is downright revolting. Enjoy your short-lived publicity, Rolling Stones.


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