Rolling Stone and our digital era

Guessing this was not much on his mind last week, but General McChrystal may've actually helped save print journalism -- the kind that requires focus and attention from both reporter and reader.

The digital kind of journalism doesn't demand much of either -- its strength is the here-and-now, delivered instantly. Internet reporting lives in the moment; web commentary stretches that moment out just a little bit longer. The web encourages grazing and skipping and shifting. It does not ask you sit and stay a while, pour an extra cup of coffee, maybe ask to see what donuts are still available.

You can't curl up with a computer (or even an iPad -- at least not yet), and so you don't -- and, to be honest, the machine doesn't even want you to try. Just keep moving your fingers across the keyboard.

Into this brave new world, like some episode of "Star trek" when creatures from another time and dimension crash into the current, Rolling Stone's article comes to remind us what we have nearly lost -- journalism that takes time to create and time to consume. It is expensive journalism, at a moment when most publications don't have a nickel to spare, but it is essential.

My first job out of college was as a writer for Rolling Stone. (Trust me, they only let me work on short items in the front of the book.) One star writer then was Charles M. Young -- when I started there, he had just returned from spending an entire year on the road with the Eagles, and was about to settle into weeks and perhaps months of turning all that experience into a book-length article for the magazine.

Yes, this did not change the course of American military history -- but it still wasn't cheap, and I doubt the magazine ever "made its money back" in the form of increased subscriptions from music fans demanding more Charles M. Young pieces on the Eagles. But that didn't matter much = this was the kind of thing magazines were supposed to do. It was why they existed -- and Rolling Stone has done more than its fair share of stories that shook up politics and politicians.

Today, struggling magazines more and more try to emulate the new kid on the media block -- stories are shorter, photos are bigger. One of the few recent successes in that world is called "The Week" (really good, by the why), which culls news from hundreds of other publications and reduces them to brief notices that are easy to skim. Depth takes a holiday.

So do yourself and this profession a favor, I'm begging you -- go out and buy a copy of Rolling Stone, the one with the McChrystal article "Runaway General" inside. Yes, you've heard all about it on cable gab-a-thons, and, yes, it is available online too. But, please, buy it. Read it. Spend some time with it over a third cup of coffee, pass it back and forth with a friend and circle passages you find particularly interesting.

This is what we should do with this kind of journalism. While we still have it.

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