Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Geronimo cover blurb controversy

June 14, 2011

Coming down to the wire on our next cover story. Finished a final illustration for the Crawford fight on The Devil's Backbone this morning. It's called "Night Stalkers":

Lt. Marion Maus gives an excellent first person account of their forced march, on foot, at night, in the cold (January, in the mountains of Mexico). They were afraid to build any cook fires so they ate hard bread and raw bacon. They climbed over ridges that came to dead ends and dead drops, and had to retrace their path back to find another way. When they finally spotted Geronimo's stronghold, 12 miles in the distance, they crept along the rocks, inch by inch, for 18 hours straight until they got into position. Amazing stuff.

Meanwhile, our staff is divided on our proposed cover blurb: "Was Geronimo A Terrorist?" Even Paul Andrew Hutton, who wrote the piece, thinks it might be a tad too controversial. He recommends "Geronimo!" with a subhed of "From terrorist to patriot. SEAL TEAM 6, Bin Laden and the irony of history."

Our art director, Dan Harshberger, is adamantly opposed to diluting the headline. He maintains that phrasing it as a question will reach a wider audience, and that when they read it, they will realize we are giving a balanced take on a discussion that deserves to be discussed on the pages of a magazine that calls itself True West.

One of our key sales team people puts it this way: "There are plenty of ways to be edgy and tell the real 'True West,' without damaging the relationship of the people who trust and believe in us and that love stories that make them feel good. I’m very concerned, we have worked so hard to attend these events and head to WESA each January in order to gain the trust of these big Blue Chip accounts. All of our advertisers want to see their products well represented in a way that is complimentary not offensive. Bin Laden is a subject that people are very sensitive about and even wasting ink on a page mentioning him in our publication is disturbing to me."

So, is the headline—"Was Geronimo A Terrorist?"—too provacative? Will it lose us readers and advertisers? Here's one of my closest friends, who doesn't want his name used, but he has been a publisher and editor for his entire life:

"Yes, the headline is provocative. And with that comes a risk. If it gets you noticed and talked about, then it is worth it. If it causes advertisers to leave in droves and seriously affects your continued business, that is another matter."

Be bold? Be safe? Be sorry?

"Most failure stems from reining in your horse in the middle of a jump."
—A wise cowboy-businessman

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