Rolling Stone under fire for mishandling of General McChrystal scoop

Rolling Stone has come in for a fair amount of flak from media commentators for the way it handled its General McChrystal scoop. It’s a very big scoop, the fallout from the story has seen McChrystal, who was US and NATO Commander in Afghanistan, sacked by President Obama. And yet the magazine decided to hold back the story for its print edition, aiming instead to generate buzz online and direct the money to the newsstands.

Buzz successfully generated (as Roy Greenslade reports, the New York Times has led with the story since it broke, as have many other outlets), readers who logged onto the Rolling Stone site couldn’t access the article. In fact, the story was nowhere to be seen.”It is one of the best pieces of reportage I’ve ever read. In these digital days, how could Rolling Stone ever imagine it could keep such an agenda-setting story to print alone?” writes Greenslade.

The story is still not available in print, it hits the newsstands tomorrow. “Clearly, competitors can’t wait until Friday to pick up a copy, especially when McChrystal has already been summoned to the White House,” wrote former Politico staffer Michael Calderone on his Yahoo! blog that day. They didn’t need to wait though. Rolling Stone had provided advance copies to Associated Press and others as part of its buzz-generating exercise, and in an unauthorised move Politico made the full text available for download from their site hours before Rolling Stone conceded and published it online.

The story eventually went up on the Rolling Stone website at around 11:00am ET, the following (Tuesday) morning.

If you are a news outlet looking to break a big story in a similar way, Megan Carpentier’s TPM Livewire article includes a step-by-step guide. Some of the key points:

  • Fail to publish even excerpts of the story on your own website, figuring that your promotion of the story will cause people to go out and buy the magazine.
  • Go to bed and sleep like a baby after the story hits.
  • Wake up to find out that Politico has published a reprint of the story you gave them, since you weren’t smart enough to put the story on your own site and despite the intellectual property violation.

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  1. Pingback: ‘The imperatives of the news cycle’: A licence to steal? | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog

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