Published May 10, 2012
Time magazine made a bold move with its cover story this week that has industry experts calling it everything from a cheap shot to desperate.
This week’s cover features an attractive 26-year-old mother, clad in trendy skinny jeans with sleekly muscled bare arms, breast-feeding her toddler son under the headline, “Are You Mom Enough?”
The story is about Dr. Bill Sears, a parenting educator who advocates extreme child-rearing techniques.
Industry insiders told Fox411 that they think this is Time’s attempt to take a page from Newsweek/Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown’s handbook of shocking your way into the news cycle.
“There is no question the morning shows and The View are going to be all over this, and Time can claim to be talked about (if not read),” said Glynnis MacNicol, a journalist who covers media.
Whether this move sells magazines is trickier than just getting folks to talk about it.
“In the case of Newsweek, Tina Brown's most controversial covers, Michele Bachmann and Princess Diana, haven't resulted in long-term upticks in subscriptions or ad sales,” MacNicol said. “People tend to see the cover online or on television, read or listen to what people are saying about it, and go on with their day. The engagement rarely goes past the cover image to the inside pages let alone the subscription form. This sort of cover suggests Time is getting increasingly desperate to garner people's attention.”
Media analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media agrees and even added that some subscribers may go so far as to cancel their subscription due to the cover.
“The downside is subscribers canceling because it is too provocative for a news magazine. Time and Newsweek are both trying to get noticed and remain relevant as consumers get news around the clock on a variety of sources,” Adgate said. “I think like everything else risque you push the envelope as far as you can. You could eventually run the risk of having newsstands covering up the magazine like a Walmart or banning it if it goes too far...”
Jessica Wakeman, a blogger who writes about women’s issues for TheFrisky.com, thinks the magazine simply didn’t have to go this far in order to raise questions about breast-feeding in America. Breast-feeding is already a divisive issue for mothers.
“They're trying to sell magazines, but they could have picked a cover that wasn't trying so hard to be controversial and even sexy,” Wakeman said. “It's not an accident that the real-life mom used for the cover is young, blonde and attractive. It's daring you to either be defensive or repulsed, or have some strong reaction of any kind.”
It didn’t take long for Hollywood to weigh in, either. Actress Alyssa Milano, who had a baby last year, exclaimed on Twitter that the magazine was exploiting breast-feeding mothers.
“@Time no! You missed the mark! You're supposed to be making it easier for breast-feeding moms. Your cover is exploitive & extreme," Milano tweeted.
A spokesman for Time magazine directed Fox411 to an interview that Rick Stengel, Time’s managing editor, gave to Forbes on Thursday morning, admitting that the magazine was courting controversy.
“To me, the whole point of a magazine cover is to get your attention,” Stengel said. “From the moment that we started talking about this story as a cover possibility, it was like I couldn’t get out of the meetings. There was so much opinion and passion about it and discussion. What that told me is, boy, this is a story that people care a lot about.”
But where does Time go from here? What is more provocative than a woman breast-feeding a child with teeth who is able to stand and walk on his own.
“I sort of shudder to think where we go from here,” MacNicol said. "Presumably, there are some gay marriage covers in the works. Otherwise ... porn? Until someone figures out how to make these dead-tree print institutions profitable, I think this race to the bottom sort of coverage will likely continue.”
Wakeman, of The Frisky, agreed.
“Nipple?” she said. “I guess next they'll have to show nipple.”