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Rolling on the edge

Rolling on the edge

Known for its coverage of music, politics and pop culture, Rolling Stone magazine has been writing headlines for almost 50 years. But this week, Rolling Stone is making headlines itself.

“Rolling Stone magazine” is one of the top searches on Google at the moment. Social media is abuzz about this week’s cover story featuring a selfie of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

A note from the editors of Rolling Stone precedes the online article by Janet Reitman:

“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. –THE EDITORS”

The editors’ note is no doubt a reaction from the social media response Rolling Stone has received this week. The magazine’s Facebook page has more than 15,000 comments on their post about the cover. Most comments are not in the magazine’s favor, with many accusing Rolling Stone of glamorizing the suspected terrorist.

This kind of reaction comes with many stories about suspected killers – especially when their crimes gain regional or national attention. From my personal experience in journalism, many times reporters will intentionally not include the suspected or convicted killer’s name in a story about the event or an anniversary of the event. The exclusion is not only to deter copycat crimes and people seeking fame through criminal acts, but also out of respect for the victims and their families.

Some retail stores, including CVS pharmacy, are refusing to sell this week’s issue. The company cited its “deep roots in New England and strong presence in Boston,” saying the decision was made “out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones” in a post on its Facebook page.

This isn’t the first controversial cover for Rolling Stone. Many people, and the magazine itself, are comparing the public reaction to their 1970 cover featuring Charles Manson. There is one major journalistic difference in the two articles. In the 1970 story, Rolling Stone spoke with Manson. This week’s story does not include an interview with Tsarnaev; Reitman spoke with his wrestling coach, family, friends and neighbors.

Although Rolling Stone has built its brand on being “edgy,” this time many think they’ve gone too far. What do you think? Share your response in the comments section below.