But what of the magazine itself? The Guardian comments:
The resignation last week of General Stanley McChrystal had the impact of a pterodactyl egg dropping on the US news agenda from 30,000 feet. A Rolling Stone magazine interview by the freelance writer Michael Hastings documented the insubordinate attitudes of the McChrystal camp towards the Obama administration and caused the general’s dismissal. US generals, Rolling Stone, ill-conceived conflicts, weekly magazines setting the agenda; it only lacked the involvement of Joan Baez and Walter Cronkite to complete the feeling that we had woken up in 1968.
Not since the days of Hunter S Thompson has Rolling Stone made itself so unpopular with the White House. But the magazine’s story management prompted media analysts to wonder if, in fact, nothing had essentially changed for the publication in the past 40 years. Although the ownership of the amazing scoop was always clear, its rapid dissemination around the web after Rolling Stone had “teased” news outlets with a few advanced copies left the publisher out of the conversation it had provoked.
Not available to readers until three days after McCrystal’s sacking, Rolling Stone had taken the decision that by seeding “buzz” in other news outlets, but hiding the story from its readers until the issue hit newsstands, it would maximise revenues. This might still be the case, but the overall effect of ignoring the invention of the internet was that Rolling Stone ceded all control of how its own story unfolded, and potentially compromised any associated benefits it might have harnessed in terms of online readership and revenue.
News agencies, blogs and newspaper websites all made hay with the McChrystal conversation whilst Rolling Stone’s own website initially did not even acknowledge the story’s existence, only weakly posting the piece once the western world had already read it.
The problem Rolling Stone encountered was a direct result of not understanding what the purpose of its web presence is. If it understood it to be marketing – to lure subscribers, engage readers, advertise writers, trail its content – then it ought to have been very explicit which route to take, and presumably that would not have included handing all its marketing over to other outlets. If, however, the primary purpose was to raise advertising, gather readers and distribute content, then it should also have been clear that some form of publication of the material was better than none.
The embarrassing stasis does suggest it defined one potential purpose of the website as selling magazines. And the best way of selling magazines, or newspapers, in the minds of some publishers, is to establish a web presence but to stop people reading your content. This is a perfectly reasonable view to take, but there is little or no evidence that it works in the way envisaged by Rolling Stone.