Although Vogue is clearly not a news publication, its controversial new cover raises some important organizational issues relevant to media organizations, and speaks to the importance of fostering open communication and an inclusive decision-making process.
Good friend and fellow organizational scholar Elizabeth Hendrickson and I were chatting about the issue this morning. Elizabeth has 10 years of experience in the magazine industry as a writer and editor and is now, like me, finishing her PhD at the Missouri School of Journalism. She shared with me her thoughts on what kinds of organizational factors can lead a magazine to make insensitive decisions:
I just watched The Today Show’s coverage about the new issue of Vogue magazine, which features basketball player LeBron James and model Giselle Bunchen. Critics are saying the cover (shot by Annie Leibovitz) perpetuates racial stereotypes (ie: black man as savage), and even pay homage to the original King Kong poster. These thoughts also occurred to me when I first saw the cover – the juxtaposition of the two superstars is indeed an unfortunate choice. Especially considering LeBron is the first black man on the magazine’s cover
Having worked in the magazine industry for many years, I can tell you that this decision is an outcome of organizational flaw inherent to most magazines. The photo decisions are made by a select few, whose minds become cluttered by a myriad of images.Often their choices are not looked at critically by outsiders of any kind. They are chosen by the photographer, the photo editor, the creative director and the Editor-in-Chief. These people are looking at hundreds of photos a day. They sometimes cease to use good judgment and become involved in what I call, mass stupidity.
Symptoms of mass stupidity are often found in magazines that needn’t conduct much market research on covers because these magazines are the trend-setters. Few people (within the industry) will question the decisions of these powerful people…Indeed, they are often more interested in emulating them. Thus, mass stupidity can be contagious. The only immunization known thus far involves a vast influx of bad press. Bad press can render the cells of mass stupidity inactive for a short time. However, these symptoms may resurface if not properly managed.
I’m NOT trying to say market research is an answer of any kind, but that the power of these select few goes unchecked in these organizations.