Struggling Mag Can't Seem To Kick Its Bad Habit

Struggling Mag Can't Seem To Kick Its Bad Habit
Posted by CN Staff on June 18, 2002 at 22:16:21 PT
By Tunku Varadarajan
Source: Wall Street Journal 
Jann Wenner, the editor and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, announced last week that he'd acquired a boyish new managing editor from FHM. For those of you over 25, that's an abbreviation of For Him Magazine, a sort of newsstand version of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog -- with a bit of edgy "text" thrown in. Predictably, this has led to spluttering in high-minded quarters. A Columbia Journalism School professor was yesterday quoted in Newsday saying: "I can hardly express how tragic it is that this decision has been made by one of the last great journalism institutions." 
(How delicious to see liberals play the role of cultural conservatives!) Mr. Wenner's aim is to get the new editor to perform the Heimlich maneuver on his lifeless magazine. The fact that Rolling Stone is an "institution" to some reveals that it is no more countercultural than Sir Mick Jagger. And Mr. Wenner's hiring of a new helmsman shows that he's not blind to the fact that his magazine is no longer iconoclastic or hip, or even a bellwether of cultural trends. That's fine, and on the money. But what the magazine needs more badly even than a brand-new editor is to kick its drug habit. The further Rolling Stone has traveled from its original countercultural roots -- and with Natalie Portman on its penultimate cover, it's come a long way, baby -- the more the magazine has turned to drug issues as a desperate means of validating its own "framers' intent." This theme is played out in its monomaniacal attacks on the drug war, its incessant glorification of marijuana and its freewheeling, amoral reportage on the drug-taking hedonism of pop stars. It has become the main way -- the only way -- in which Rolling Stone tries to cling to its erstwhile role as countercultural crusader; and it does so unmindful of the harmful effect its stories might have on younger readers. Of those -- younger readers -- it has a fair few. Two years ago, Philip Morris, under pressure from state attorneys general, suspended advertising in all magazines that had more than two million readers under 18, or whose teenage readership was greater than 15%. One of these publications was Rolling Stone, which, at the time, was deemed by Mediamark Research Inc. and the Simmons Market Research Bureau -- independent media research companies -- to have a teen readership of 30% and 28% respectively. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal in May 2000, the magazine disputed those figures, saying only 6.8% of its subscribers were under 21. Last week, a spokeswoman for Rolling Stone refused to divulge to me the magazine's own figures for teenage readership or subscriptions. "We're not going to cooperate with your story," she said. Repeating the same phrase, she turned down a request to messenger over to me a few back issues of the magazine. Back issues are available from other sources, and an afternoon spent reading through them revealed the depths of Rolling Stone's obsession with drugs . One can only draw attention to the incongruity of a situation in which a magazine whose juvenile readership renders it taboo for Philip Morris is still a biweekly soapbox for pot evangelists, not to mention a vehicle for stories -- such as a recent one about the death-by-overdose of a singer called Layne Staley -- that take a microscopic but never judgmental look at those who party hard, pass out and often die. Rolling Stone was not holding up Staley as a role model, of course, just as it wasn't holding up Robert Downey Jr. as a figure to emulate in a piece last year, in which readers were treated to a detailed account including how many "lines" of cocaine Downey snorted and how much crack he "cooked" of a nightlong binge that landed the actor in jail. But how could the magazine affect a tone that hints at the waste and havoc of Staley's death, or Downey's disintegration, while speaking all the while of drugs as a symbol of enlightenment? In Rolling Stone, those who oppose drugs are cast always as harsh Savonarolas, or dimwits who just don't get it. A few pages after the Staley story, there's a piece that condemns random drug-testing in schools as "straight out of Orwell's 1984." The author describes Justice Antonin Scalia "glowering down from the bench" at an ACLU lawyer in a drug-testing case. To leave no room for doubt, there's a mug shot of the judge, captioned "Supreme Court Justice Scalia recently ripped into a civil-liberties lawyer." This from a magazine that describes the crackdown on ecstasy-taking by teenagers as a "War on Raves," in which the Drug Enforcement Agency is vilified for trying to "squash an artistic form." And from a magazine in whose latest issue readers are treated to what is effectively a drug-takers' travel piece. The "New Pot World Order" includes "the new stoned Switzerland," where "skiers with a taste for pot are flocking to . . . resorts such as Verbier." Don't mistake Rolling Stone's contents for the cutting edge of counterculture. Just think of it as your in-flight magazine on a trip to nowhere. Mr. Varadarajan is the Journal's chief television and media critic.  Source: Wall Street Journal (US)Author: Tunku VaradarajanPublished: June 18, 2002Copyright: 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.Contact: wsj.ltrs wsj.comWebsite: Stone Magazine - Cannabis Archives
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Comment #8 posted by paul peterson on June 19, 2002 at 10:16:50 PT:
Hey, just remember that any coverage (right now in this war) is better than no coverage. To have the Wall Street Journal dissing Rolling Stone (and elevating it to even cult status) only will help the magazine to increase sales. The Wall people will certainly start to believe that there is a war on the war on drugs going on right now, which can't hurt down in Peoria, etc. Just remember, that used to get a story a week on this stuff. Now, have you noticed that all of the major news stories (and John Walters seems to be making a lot of them lately), now are starting to get multiple references, multiple papers running similar or identical stories, which means that is getting redundant coverage?). This just means that 1) more mainstream publications are having the guts to pick these stories up from the "wire", 2) the "wire" is now defined as a number of separate and parallel "netwires" to which publications can go to ensure they get access to a varied "banquet" of sources, 3) writers & editors tend to be looking a bit (just a bit) more for variety than previously, 4) more people seem to be "newshawking" to provide tips and submissions to, 5) more people seem to be coming to for their news than from to other source, 6) the news is happening so often that you have to visit twice daily to ensure that you don't miss another breaking story, 7) as a result of this increased speed of dissemination of information, we are witnessing the true development of a trend towards rational change in drug policy, 8) this all portends that the November election will truly see some major shifts in the political spectrum, towards the legalization (of at least mm), and further "adjustments" of the collective attitude of our citizenry towards a realization that the world is finally looking at some "post WOD" perhaps "pluralism" in these regards, without the "knee jerk" assumption that anyone that even uses the word "pot" is merely "addicted" to that substance to be able to say the word or something (does this make any sense to anybody other than myself?).
 Oh well, I'm done now. PAUL PETERSON
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Comment #7 posted by The GCW on June 19, 2002 at 06:52:04 PT
Nothing ticks off the Drug Warriors like dissent. But of course, Truth, puts them out of business.Doesn't salt dissolve the slug?Truth is the prohibitionists worst nightmare.
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Comment #6 posted by WolfgangWylde on June 19, 2002 at 04:58:01 PT
Man oh man, do these guys hate dissent...
I love it! Nothing ticks off the Drug Warriors like dissent. They've controlled the debate (by making sure that there was none) for so long, all they can do is throw hissy fits like this one now that other journalists are no longer toeing the Party Line. I'm sure what really got to this guy was the fact that Rolling Stone did extensive reporting on the dawning of Marijuana Legalization in Europe, which has been soundly ignored by the major media in the U.S. I urge everyone to check out the current issue. 
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Comment #5 posted by Dan B on June 19, 2002 at 03:45:42 PT:
Overt Attack on a Rival Publication
This isn't only a sneak attack on the First Amendment, as E_Johnson correctly points out. It's also an overt attack on a rival publication.Rival? How can anyone view Rolling Stone as a rival to The Wall Street Journal? Simple. It isn't necessarily a rival in terms of marketing and sales, but its message does not fit with the ultra-right-wing, conservative, party-line crap that spews from the WSJ's pages day in and day out. And, in the eyes of the WSJ, anyone who does not agree with the conservatives' message that we must continue to kill as many people as possible in the name of "keeping people safe" (read: "making more money for the rich") is an opponent who must be attacked. By the way, believe me when I say that the drug war is making hundreds of billions of dollars a year for rich corporations whose stocks are traded daily on Wall Street.Notice, by the way, that this article never defends its own message. The entire thing is designed to tear down Rolling Stone. But if one publication is going to tear down a message promoted by another publication, it had better start by supporting its own message. Otherwise, savvy readers (and I realize that such readers are getting fewer and further between as the days go by) will come to understand the truth: the attacking publication cannot support its own position; therefore, it attacks everyone else and simply hopes that its voice will be heard above all others.Unfortunately, this simplistic strategy has worked too well for too long. Let's hope we are educating a few people out there so we can change this ugly phenomenon.Dan B
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Comment #4 posted by E_Johnson on June 18, 2002 at 23:04:09 PT
Even TV Guide is now pro-weed
They did an interview with Ja Rule that was fantastic because he was lighting blunts during the interview and the interviewer noted it without any sarcasm or projection, and left hinm sounding pretty normal as he talked about how exciting it was to be making enough money to buy a house for his mother.I am surprised that the WSJ does not seem to know which side their capitalistic bread is buttered on.The advertisers on Jay Leno know. Just take a look at their ads and guess which demographic they feel is profitable for their businesses.
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Comment #3 posted by BGreen on June 18, 2002 at 22:52:13 PT
Throwaway journalism from a throwaway journalist
Mr. Varadarajan is the Journal's chief television and media critic.Very prestigious title!I know I ALWAYS turn to The Wall Street Journal for all of my TV and media info. I get my gardening info from GQ, cooking info from PC World, and of course, don't we all get our fashion advice from US News & World Report?
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Comment #2 posted by E_Johnson on June 18, 2002 at 22:40:19 PT
A sneak attack on the First Amendment
Dear editors,I am deeply disappointed in the diatribe by Tunku Varadarajanagainst Rolling Stone's position against the Drug War. And I am shocked that the Wall Street Journal is allowing its pages to be used for what is essentially a sneak attack on the First Amendment. Americans have almost completely lost the Fourth Amendment to the Drug War, we can just about forget the Ninth Amendment thanks to the Drug war, and now even the 15th Amendement has been effectively undermined by the Drug War.Are we to abandon the First Amendment, too?Perhaps future historians will remember the Wall Street Journal as where it all began. Or where it all ended, depending on how you feel about the First Amendment.
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Comment #1 posted by Industrial Strength on June 18, 2002 at 22:28:23 PT
"In Rolling Stone, those who oppose drugs are cast always as harsh Savonarolas, or dimwits who just don't get it."
Well, you just DONT get it, apparantly. It is not that you oppose drugs, it's that you oppose drug reform. 
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