Time breastfeeding cover inspires the ‘conversation’ newsweeklies want

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Time magazine’s cover image this week features a woman named Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her son, who stands on a chair. The story it promotes, as Steve Myers pointed out yesterday, isn’t really about breastfeeding (and is behind a paywall), but most of the talk is about the cover.

Which, in magazine terms, is a total score. In a piece about the brouhaha the cover’s engendered, Keith Kelly quotes Time editor-in-chief Rick Stengel: “You want people to be having that conversation,” he said. “The idea of all magazine covers is to get people to pay attention to what is inside. This is a serious story about the debate of how people are raising their children.”

That term, conversation, is the lifeblood of news magazines. Newsweek editor Tina Brown loves directing “the conversation”: She once launched a magazine called Talk and hosted a TV show called “Topic [A]“. In a note last spring introducing her reboot of Newsweek, Brown said it would serve as a place where readers could “pause to learn things that the Web has no time to explain,” a conceit Jack Shafer had a little fun with. But that was before Brown’s shop started turning out covers that inspired all sorts of conversation: The Michele Bachmann “crazy eyes” cover, the dead-Princess-Di-attending-the-Royal-Wedding cover, or even just, as Julie Moos pointed out, simply putting women on the cover regularly.

Kelly gets a great quote from a Newsweek spokesperson: “When Tina saw the Time cover, she laughed and said, ‘Let the games begin.’ ”

On the “Today” show Friday, WNBC’s Darlene Rodriguez said a poll about the cover on the show’s website generated “one of the biggest responses ever”: More than 122,000 people, she said, voted, most of them choosing “I don’t really want to see that.” Alexandra Petri says the Time cover is part of America’s obsession with what she calls “mommy porn”:

We have a whole complex set up to squint nervously at other people’s parenting habits. The way we scrutinize mothers is comparable to nothing else under the sun. Are you Mom enough? Who asks that?

Are newsweeklies, which like the rest of print media have been stripped down, able to handle such a conversation? Or will they simply move on to the next topic? Starting conversation is remarkably easy these days — remember ““#TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss“? Staying with them: That’s a role a newsweekly could try to fill.

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