What Magazine Covers Say (or Don’t Say)


Guilty. Greedy. These are just two things that some news magazine covers can “say.” Consider a recent cover of Bloomberg BusinessWeek (above left). Some have said that the cover depicts minorities in a negative light. As Matthew Yglesias of Slate put it, “The idea is that we can know things are really getting out of hand since even nonwhite people can get loans these days! They ought to be ashamed.” Although BusinessWeek apologized for the cover, Yglesias thinks the apology to be a bit off the mark. “Note that [the editor didn’t] say they regret publishing the actual content of the cover, but the ‘strong reactions’ that it incited,” he writes. “How hard is it to take responsibility for the cover, say sorry, and leave it at that?”

The cover on the right says things, too. Here, South African Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius is featured on this week’s cover of Time magazine. Pistorius has been charged with murdering his girlfriend and he is under trial in South Africa. In my mind, his purported “icy glare” with the word “Gunman” seems to indict him as being guilty; the photograph itself––although very well executed––seems to go further by depicting Pistorius as some kind of cyborg-like monster.

This isn’t the first instance in which Time has dabbled with controversial covers. Take a look at the examples below. The cover on the far left is perhaps the magazine’s most notable cover. Former NFL running back and alleged murderer O.J. Simpson was featured on a cover in 1994 sporting a rough-faced “five o’clock shadow” that the magazine later admitted to enhancing. The other covers, the mom nursing the older boy (published in 2012) and the disfigured Afghan girl (that appeared in 2010), might be criticized for being too shocking.


Here’s the question: Even in this Web-dominant world, magazines must sell on newsstands to generate revenue. Having worked for a publisher, I can tell you that magazine covers are specifically chosen for their abilities to sell. In fact, they’re designed to sell. So is it morally right that magazines shock and perhaps even editorialize just to sell more copies? What can we say about the choices that were made in these cases?

Sources: slate.com, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Time, oordera.com