Rolling Stone is an American biweekly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine’s publisher, and the music critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was first known for its musical coverage and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine shifted focus to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. In recent years, it has resumed its traditional mix of content.
HistoryRolling Stone magazine was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason. To get it off the ground, Wenner borrowed $7,500 from his own family and from the parents of his soon-to-be wife, Jane Schindelheim. 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 25¢ (equivalent to $1.80 in 2016).
In the first issue, Wenner explained that the title of the magazine referred to the 1950 blues song, “Rollin’ Stone”, recorded by Muddy Waters, the rock and roll band the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan’s hit single “Like a Rolling Stone”. Some authors have attributed the name solely to Dylan’s hit single: “At [Ralph] Gleason’s suggestion, Wenner named his magazine after a Bob Dylan song.” Rolling Stone initially identified with and reported the hippie counterculture of the era. However, it 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, 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 with its political coverage, with the likes of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson writing for the magazine’s political section. Thompson first published 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 a large number of his peers, said that he bought his first copy of the magazine upon initial arrival on his college campus, describing it 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 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 initially 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 has also 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.
The printed format has gone through several changes. The first publications, in 1967–72, were in folded tabloid newspaper format, with no staples, black ink text, and a single color highlight that changed each edition. From 1973 onwards, editions were produced on a four-color press with a different newsprint paper size. In 1979, the bar code appeared. In 1980, it became a gloss-paper, large format (10”×12”) magazine. As of edition of October 30, 2008, Rolling Stone has had a smaller, standard-format magazine size.
2000sAfter 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 2005, Dana Leslie Fields, former publisher of Rolling Stone, who had worked at the magazine for 17 years, was an inaugural inductee into the Magazine Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Taibbi unleashed an acclaimed series of scathing reports on the financial meltdown of the time. He famously described Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid”.
2010sBigger 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 by 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 become embroiled in such wars. The book reached Amazon’s bestseller list in the first 48 hours of release, and it received generally favorable reviews. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald described it as “superb,” “brave” and “eye-opening”.
In 2012, Taibbi, through his coverage of the Libor scandal, emerged as an expert on that topic, which led to media appearances outside Rolling Stone.
On November 9, 2012, the magazine published its first Spanish-language section on Latino music and culture, in the issue dated November 22.
In September 2016, Advertising Age reported that Wenner is in the process of selling a 49% stake of the magazine to a company from Singapore called BandLab. The new investor will have no direct involvement in the editorial content of the magazine.