Newsweek's gay-marriage cover is a flag in the ground for print journalism

Newsweek | The New Republic | Politico

Andrew Sullivan's cover story in this week's Newsweek is a marvel of extended blog writing -- a sharply constructed, breezily toned argument that President Obama "learned to be black the way gays learn to be gay."

It may even get discussed sometime this week. But at the moment it's being overshadowed by the cover of the print edition of the magazine it appears in.

One might, at this benighted point in print-journalism history, ask what difference the cover of a magazine actually makes. They're not a huge economic force: Newsweek's year-end publisher's statement this past December gave an average of 40,342 single-copy sales per issue, down from 96,334 in 2007. But they still occupy a nice piece of cultural real estate. An article in a newsweekly has as much chance of becoming the focus of cultural conversation as a photo of a falling bear or a review of an Olive Garden in a North Dakota newspaper, but an arresting cover is an assertion that while print magazines' power may have receded, they're far from toothless.

Just look at how much comment Time's "breastfeeding" cover last week kicked up, for a story that wasn't really about breastfeeding and was behind a paywall. A Newsweek spokesperson told Keith Kelly “When Tina saw the Time cover, she laughed and said, ‘Let the games begin.’ ”

In a statement to Politico, Brown said, "If President Clinton was the ‘first black president’ then Obama earns every stripe in that ‘gaylo’ with last week’s gay marriage proclamation ... Newsweek’s cover pays tribute to his newly ordained place in history.”

After Obama said he thought gays should be able to marry, The New Republic lobbed a package of cheeky cover suggestions at Brown, including one of the president leading a pride parade in a white suit and another of him kissing Joe Biden, all of which made the sideways point that subtlety was not the way to go (that's The New Yorker's job). Newsweek's cover is provocative, fun to riff about and a flag in the ground that says print journalism still matters. Kinda makes you hope the games continue, doesn't it?

Related: Time breastfeeding cover inspires the ‘conversation’ newsweeklies want

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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