Comparing magazines: Rolling Stone vs. Spin on Lil Wayne’s arrest coverage

It was all over music news’ headlines a month ago: Lil Wayne pleaded guilty to second-degree gun possession charges and now faces up to a year in prison.

I came across the story on Rollingstone.com, and decided to go to a few sources to compare their accounts. What I found was interesting; two music magazines, though directed to similar audiences, had very different takes on reporting.

Lil Wayne pleads guilty

Rolling Stone’s article highlighted the seriousness of the case. They detailed the arrest charges as well as previous charges in which he pleaded not guilty. Their story pointed out that he was found “holding 105 grams of marijuana, 29 grams of cocaine, 41 grams of ecstasy, drug paraphernalia and a handgun.” They also reminded readers that Wayne is the second rapper emprisoned for illegal handgun possession this year, after T.I.’s arrest in March. They even went into specifics about the police search that unearthed the gun: “cops searched Wayne’s tour bus after they detected the aroma of marijuana following his show at the Beacon Theatre. When police approached the bus, Wayne allegedly tossed a Louis Vuitton bag with the gun inside.”

Spin.com, on the other hand, disappointed me with their version of events. They got the basic story correct — Wayne had a gun, pleaded guilty and was sentenced. However, their style of reporting sounded much more lighthearted, even sympathetic at times. One Spin employee was even quoted: “Never has such a gifted MC been more motivated and distracted, piercing and random, clear-eyed and stoned into total bewildering oblivion. Who can’t relate?” Their article focused on superficial facts like what Wayne was wearing to the court hearing (“A solemn Wayne, 27, arrived to for the hearing dressed casually in black jeans, a gray coat, white T-shirt, and blue Converse Chucks”) and his success (“Wayne is currently No. 1 on the pop charts…The position is familiar to the rapper: on the success of 2008’s Tha Carter III, Wayne shot from underground prodigy to chart-topping pop star. The album has sold over three million copies”). The story barely even mentions his drug possession or previous gun charges.

Has Spin let go of its good reporters, or are they more interested in the fluffier aspects of the music industry than Rolling Stone? How can two competing magazines give such a varied account of a single event?

**For another style of journalism covering this story, check out MTV’s video coverage of the court hearing by clicking on Lil Wayne’s mug shot above.

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4 responses to “Comparing magazines: Rolling Stone vs. Spin on Lil Wayne’s arrest coverage

  1. Based on these articles, I would much rather read Rolling Stone than Spin. I want information. I don’t care how many records Lil Wayne has sold. I want to know what he’s in trouble for and why. I want the facts. And articles, like this one in Spin that dance around the real issues, are a waste of my time.

    • I agree with Lindsay on this one. You get this a lot when it comes to celebrities and news coverage–especially when it comes to breaking the law. When it comes down to it I’d buy Rolling Stone, but I’d still probably read Spin. Each title brings something different to the table, and readers know that. If every publication wrote the same stories, then what would bet the need for multiple magazines?

  2. It would have been so easy for Rolling Stone to spin this (no pun intended) like Spin did. He actually threw a Louis Vuitton bag at a police officer–with a gun in it? That’s priceless.

    Nonetheless, I’m glad Rolling Stone chose to take the high road (once again, no pun intended) and do good reporting instead of making light of a rather serious situation.

    Unfortunately, something like this will only continue the success of Lil Wayne’s career as opposed to hurting it. Look how many albums T.I. sold after his debacle. It’s unfortunate in this day and age that these stars remain stars even after they pull stupid stuff like this. Thank God Chris Brown’s career has finally dissipated after he beat Rihanna, but is beating your girlfriend really the only kind of bad publicity that will dead-end your career? I mean, seriously, who the heck needs 105 grams of marijuana, 29 grams of coke, 41 grams of ectascy and a freakin’ handgun?

    Lil Wayne disgusts me and disappoints me. The only thing that disgusts me and disappoints me more is that I own both Lil Wayne’s and T.I.’s albums.

  3. But look at the two audiences here: Rolling Stone’s is way older and appeals to a wider range, whereas Spin is more niche, catering to younger music lovers. I’m not surprised at all in the difference in reporting.

    Seems like (and I know I’m generalizing) that RS’s audience are parents who need that hard reporting on problems–namely drugs and violence–that is plaguing their children’s generation. Spin’s audience, on the other hand, might backlash against their trusted magazine if it made a music icon like Lil Wayne out to be too much of a bad guy.

    Storytelling all comes down to audience, especially since magazines are so tailored these days.

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