Time magazine

Controversial Time and Newsweek Covers Remind Us Print Isn’t on Life Support

Time magazine May 21, 2012 coverIt’s been a banner week for magazine cover controversy. But Time’s breastfeeding toddler and Newsweek’s ‘gaylo’-ed President–and the fallout from it–remind print isn’t dead yet.

Don’t sound the death knell for print just yet. Forget how the rise of the Internet and digitization would destroy subscription bases. No matter that the immediacy of social media would make their contents obsolete by the time of publication.

If the controversial magazine covers released by Time and Newsweek in the past week have taught us anything, it’s that print media is still the big dog wagging the digital tail.

First, Time magazine’s cover depicting a mom breastfeeding her toddler in a feature about attachment parenting set the Twitterverse, well, atwitter. And President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriage prompted Newsweek to proclaim him the nation’s “first gay president” underneath a cover photo featuring him with a twinkling rainbow-colored halo overhead.

Time’s nod to Mother’s Day—if it were that—got tongues wagging over an extreme method of parenting in which moms particularly deepen their bond with their children by breastfeeding them well into their toddler years, “wear” them in infancy in slings carried close to their bodies and let their little ones sleep in bed with them.

But to be fair, all the fuss was over the photo of a real mother and her 3-year-old son breastfeeding on its May 21, 2012 issue. It wasn’t Photoshopped or a computer-generated graphic, which kept pushing it farther out of the majority of the viewing public’s comfort zone.

Newsweek’s brash assertion about Obama being the “first gay president” is actually a riff on a Toni Morrison comment in a 1998 New Yorker essay about Bill Clinton being the “first black president.” In it, Morrison details the qualities about Clinton that “make him black”—though he obviously isn’t. Just as Obama’s support of gay marriage doesn’t make him gay.

Considering the siNewsweek May 21, 2012milarities of the two, it should come as no surprise that the same editor was in charge at the New Yorker then and at Newsweek now. Tina Brown has a reputation for controversial covers—and for an uptick in newsstand sales as a result. And when the cover of the latest Time hit the Internet a week ago, it wouldn’t be her style to be one-upped.

Ironically, Newsweek may have bought Time some more time, at least in some media outlets. The covers of both magazines have made their rounds on television and network news programs—often in the same breath.

And of course, especially these days, they’ve made their rounds on social media, and in a time when the controversy is usually stirred by Facebook and Twitter, it’s the printed word (well, picture, which is worth 1,000 words anyway) that’s sparked the debate.

Research tells us it won’t last long online, merely hours until something else comes along. But since the controversial magazine covers came first—and since magazines in general have an unspecified shelf life—we could be hearing about them for a while.

And that is why print is hardly close to dead.