Rolling Stone and the Plight of the Not-Quite-Good-Enough MagazineS

Rolling Stone got its nice big "Dominate the news cycle" turn last week with Michael Hastings' Gen. McChrystal story. Will this revive Rolling Stone as a culturally relevant touchstone? Not a chance.

Rolling Stone, you see, suffers from the all-too-common affliction which I like to call "Good Stories, Bad Magazine Syndrome." (I just made that name up; shut up). That is, while Rolling Stone can be reliably counted on to put out a number of important, groundbreaking, top-notch works of journalism (and Matt Taibbi quasi-anger-journalism) throughout the year, they will never put out enough of those stories to make the types of people who care about those stories seriously consider reading the magazine on a regular basis.

That's because they have constructed themselves upon the bizarre and defunct notion that mixing solid public affairs journalism with Britney Spears covers and paeans to plastic pop music is a formula for publishing success. It isn't, any more. Whereas once people would have rushed out to newsstands to pick up copies of Rolling Stone and read what all fuss was about with McChrystal, now they either A) read that one single story on RS's website, for free, or B) read it at the competition's website for free, which is what happened in this case.

Rolling Stone—and Esquire, and Vanity Fair, for that matter—put out stories that are just as good as the stories in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, or any other high temple of journalism. But those stories are interspersed with such a great quantity of formulaic celebrity profiles and grooming tips that one is unable to take the magazine as a whole seriously. Everyone knows that you don't need to subscribe to Rolling Stone in order to read the five great stories they publish every year; just wait until you hear those stories mentioned elsewhere and check in then. So whether you think Politico stole RS's story or not, the fact remains that it doesn't much matter for the magazine itself. The credit for this piece will go mostly to Michael Hastings, the author; for Rolling Stone, it is simply another reason to check in with them once every few months.

Just look at that cover. Ehh? Really says it all.

The internet has split each and every story from every outlet into its own discrete item. Unless your publication is consistent enough to somehow pull all of these separate links into a coherent whole, you'll never be a destination, per se. You're just hosting writers and writing checks.

[Which we support, btw!]