The Beneficial Controversy

In mid-July, when Rolling Stone unveiled their latest cover that featured the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev, the magazine came under heavy fire – before anyone was able to read the story.

The choice to put him on the cover, many argued, glorified the terror suspect and portrayed him as a celebrity. The fierce media backlash led several stores to boycott the issue.

However, despite the seemingly universal disdain, Adweek reports that traffic to the magazine’s website hit a high the week the article was posted. From July 17, the day the story was posted, to July 21, 1.5 million unique U.S. visitors went to the website, a 41 percent increase from the previous week, according to comScore. The payoff for Rolling Stone, nevertheless, will be minimal, as the article was available at no charge and the boost wasn’t anticipated (in which case more advertising could have been sold.)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev boston bomber

In the days that followed the tragedy at the Boston marathon, while the manhunt for the Tsarnaevs was underway, the consensus seemed to be that the best case scenario was to catch them alive. We wanted answers.

Our hopes were half met. The younger brother was captured alive, though badly wounded. We would have to wait to get our answers.

But in the journalism world, getting a story first is a high priority. In this regard, Rolling Stone and the article’s author Janet Reitman should be praised for giving the public the first investigative report into the life of Jahar.

Even though the cover of Rolling Stone is traditionally reserved for the latest big name in music or film, the magazine has an impressive history of hard news. The critics of Rolling Stone’s choice aren’t familiar with this fact, or else they would have given the New York Times the same backlash when the same picture was put on the front page of their May 5th issue.

Even though there are no direct answers from Jahar himself, Reitman’s reporting and writing provides deep background into the circumstances that led to a popular 19-year-old blowing up innocent people. Reitman talks to nearly a dozen of Jahar’s close friends and teachers, who say about him thinks like: “He was just, like, this nice, calm, compliant, pillow-soft kid,” “He was the first person I’d call if I needed a ride or a favor. He’d just go, ‘I got you, dog’,” and “He never picked on anybody.” The conclusion is that he was a well-rounded, ordinary kid, just as he appears on the cover.


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