Why Hero Worship and Monster Making hasn't saved journalism.

Once upon a time when ratings or circulation lagged, the press had a couple of tricks to spice things up. The first was to slap a hero, and sometimes heroine on the cover:


People magazine is soft news and celebrity-centric, but they had always relied on Princess Diana to boost their circulation.

Have a swagger winner on a cover also applied to the hard news sister publication of Time:


Particularly in the 1980s:


Maybe the grandkids will pick up this issue, or not:


In case everyone confuses Time with People, we still have hope:


Exploit a built-in fanbase who will hopefully snatch up the magazine as a "collector's item":


All while telling people who to cheer on, even if you are not Time magazine:


But the lure of gaining extra readers with a "sell" over "tell" cover is irresistible:

WIRED -- NewsandPolitics -- September

Sometimes, you cannot always fawn in the open to the admirers of your cover boy or girl, or else people will become suspicious that maybe you aren't so much about news, but trying to crib from the old Tiger Beat magazine.



Except the difference is men do not have to have their shirts buttoned down for Time magazine.

For a long time, this strategy worked: after all the teeny bopper rags were driven strictly on cover photos with no deep articles at all. It was pure Patriarchal visual storytelling of propping up a hero for the little people to worship, or at least imagine what they looked like naked on the reader's bed.

But there was another trick to make it seem as if the coverage was news and not mere propaganda: finding a monster to scare the people out of their wits, or make them hate:


Because there are those who will buy the cover just to incite themselves:


You would think facts tell a story, but it is the monster who used to sell it instead, even if his image is manipulated to do it:


Or you turn those monsters into airheads who don't even know how to look professional, even if they got a different invitation:


Once long ago, these visual memos did the trick. People bought covers with their favourite heroes and villains on the covers.

And now, not so much.

Simple: people prefer their own partisan takes, and do not need to pay for the covers they can create themselves online, with their own spin and opinion.

The magazine cover has been replaced by the meme poster.

Why pay for propaganda, when you can generate your own for free?

Hero worship and monster making were cheap ways for the press to snag attention, but when their audience co-opted those same economical tricks, it no longer had an impact, and a reliable feint stopped working entirely.