Rolling Stone is a fortnightly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine’s editor-in-chief, and music critic Ralph J. Gleason. The magazine was known for its musical coverage and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine changed its format to appeal to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. In recent years, the magazine has resumed its traditional mix of content.
To get the magazine off the ground, Wenner borrowed $7,500 from his own family and his future in-laws of his soon-to-be wife, Michell Palmer. The first issue carried a cover date of November 9, 1967 and was in newspaper format with a lead article on the Monterey Pop Festival. The cover price was 35¢ (equivalent to $2.48 today).
Wenner stated in the first issue that the title of the magazine referred to the 1950 blues song, “Rollin’ Stone”, “, recorded by Muddy Waters, the rock group The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan’s hit single “Like a Rolling Stone”. Rolling Stone initially identified with and reported the hippie counterculture of the era. However, the magazine distanced itself from the underground newspapers of the time, such as Berkeley Barb, embracing more traditional journalistic standards and avoiding the radical politics of the underground press. In the very first edition of the magazine, Wenner wrote that Rolling Stone “is not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”
In the 1970s, Rolling Stone began to make a mark for its political coverage, with the likes of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson writing for the magazine’s political section. Thompson would first publish his most famous work Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas within the pages of Rolling Stone, where he remained a contributing editor until his death in 2005. In the 1970s, the magazine also helped launch the careers of many prominent authors, including Cameron Crowe, Lester Bangs, Joe Klein, Joe Eszterhas, Patti Smith and P.J. O’Rourke. It was at this point that the magazine ran some of its most famous stories, including that of the Patty Hearst abduction odyssey. One interviewer, speaking for large numbers of his peers, said that he bought his first copy of the magazine upon initial arrival on his college campus, which he described as a “rite of passage “.
In 1977, the magazine moved its headquarters from San Francisco to New York City. Editor Jann Wenner said San Francisco had become “a cultural backwater.”
During the 1980s, the magazine began to shift focus towards being a general “entertainment” magazine. Music was still a dominant topic but there was increasing coverage of celebrities in television, films and the pop culture of the day. The magazine also initiated its annual “Hot Issue” during this time.
Rolling Stone was known for its musical coverage and for Thompson’s political reporting. In the 1990s, the magazine changed its format to appeal to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. This led to criticism that the magazine was emphasizing style over substance. In recent years, the magazine has resumed its traditional mix of content, including in-depth political stories. It also has expanded content to include coverage of financial and banking issues. As a result, the magazine has seen its circulation increase and its reporters invited as experts to network television programs of note.
On November 5, 2012, the magazine published its first cover in the Spanish language as recognition to the influence of Latino artists in American culture.
One major criticism of Rolling Stone involves its generational bias toward the 1960s and 1970s. One critic referred to the Rolling Stone list of the “99 Greatest Songs” as an example of “unrepentant rockist fogeyism”.
Rolling Stone magazine has been criticized for reconsidering many classic albums that it had previously dismissed and (in recent years) for frequent abuse of the 3.5 star rating. Examples of artists for whom this is the case include, among others, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Nirvana, Weezer, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Outkast, and Queen. For example, Led Zeppelin was largely written off by Rolling Stone magazine critics during the band’s most active years in the 1970s. However by 2006, a cover story on Led Zeppelin honored them as “the Heaviest Band of All Time”.
Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg criticised the magazine writing that “Rolling Stone has essentially become the house organ of the Democratic National Committee. Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner has made all of his political donations to Democrats.
After years of declining readership, the magazine experienced a major resurgence of interest and relevance with the work of two young journalists in the late 2000s: Michael Hastings and Matt Taibbi. In 2009, Taibbi unleashed a scathing series of acclaimed reporting on the financial meltdown. He famously described Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid.”
Bigger headlines came at the end of June 2010. Rolling Stone caused a controversy in the White House by publishing in the July issue an article by journalist Michael Hastings, entitled, “The Runaway General”, quoting criticism of General Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan commander, about Vice President Joe Biden and other Administration members of the White House. McChrystal resigned from his position shortly after his statements went public.
In 2010, Taibbi documented illegal and fraudulent actions by banks in the foreclosure courts after traveling to Jacksonville, Florida and sitting in on hearings in the courtroom. His article, Invasion of the Home Snatchers also documented attempts by the judge to intimidate a homeowner fighting foreclosure and the attorney Taibbi accompanied into the court.
In January 2012, the magazine ran exclusive excerpts from Hastings’ book just prior to publication. The book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan, provided a much more expansive look at McChrystal and the culture of senior American military and how they get embroiled in these wars. It has been described as a boozy, sexy account of the misadventures of America’s most notorious killers. The book reached Amazon’s bestseller list in the first 48 hours of release, and it received generally favorable reviews.
In 2012, financial scandals also continued to rock the world. Taibbi emerged as an expert who could explain the events as they unfolded. His articles garnered him invitations to nationally broadcast television programs.
Rolling Stone has maintained a website for many years, with selected current articles, reviews, blogs, MP3s, and other features such as searchable and free encyclopedic articles about artists, with images and sometimes sound clips of their work. The articles and reviews are sometimes in a revised form from the versions that are published. There are also selected archival political and cultural articles and entries. The site also at one time had an extensive message board forum. By the late 1990s, the message board forum at the site had developed into a thriving community with a large number of regular members and contributors worldwide. The site was also plagued with numerous Internet trolls and malicious code-hackers who vandalized the forum substantially. Rolling Stone abruptly deleted the forum in May 2004. Rolling Stone began a new, much more limited message board community at their site in late 2005, only to remove it again in 2006. Rolling Stone also has a page at MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. In March 2008, the Rolling Stone website started a new message board section once again, then deleted it in April 2010. The magazine devotes one of its Table of Contents pages to promoting material currently appearing at its website, listing detailed links to the items.
As of April 19, 2010, the website has been updated drastically and features the complete archives of Rolling Stone. The archive was first launched under a for-pay model, but has since transitioned to a free-with-print-subscription model. In the spring of 2012, Rolling Stone also launched a federated search feature which searches both the website and the archive.