The controversy over the cover of Rolling Stone that came out last week is justified. It's not about journalism. It's about sensationalism and becoming the story.
Rolling Stone has a reputation for good, solid reporting that digs into people and situations. The story about Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, is part of that tradition, as the magazine said in the preface to the story.
The photo, however, needed a bit of tempering, perhaps with a contrasting photo of him in his jail jumpsuit in court. The words under the photo say the story purports to take us through the journey from "popular promising student" through being "failed by his family" and a fall "into radical Islam" to become "a monster."
The photo shows him to be a bit of a rock-star. And while there is value to seeing that the bomber has a face and that the face could be the kid next door, it's also only been three months since people lost their lives, their limbs and had their world and their community torn apart, allegedly by this cute little boy and his now-dead brother.
There is a certain sensitivity line that was crossed, one that surely someone at the publication must have known would raise the controversy that it has.
Intentionally doing so violates one supreme tenet of the good journalism in the story by making sure Rolling Stone became the story.
Yes, it grabs attention. But it is insensitive to the max.