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This ain’t your father’s ‘Rolling Stone’

January 8, 2007

One of my favorite movies is Almost Famous, about a teen writer and his freelance roving-reporting assignment for Rolling Stone magazine. He wins big in the end, overcoming his editor’s doubts, and gets the cover story.

Rolling Stone coverA new reality TV show, I’m From Rolling Stone (on 9 p.m. Sunday, MTV), looks to give six candidates a shot an easier road to the rock/pop-culture/politics magazine, offering them “internships” in a competition to be the mag’s next contributing editor. (Here’s a link to the RS web site page for the series.)

And, in traditional reality-show style, the producers botch it all up.

Aman Batheja, a writer for the Dallas Star-Telegram, wrote up a review on the show from a unique perspective — she was an actual intern at Rolling Stone during her formative years.

And, SURPRISE!, the intern life at RS wasn’t as glamorous as MTV makes it out to be.

From Batheja’s article:

A look at the first two episodes proves that the magazine’s treatment of its summer interns has radically changed from my day, or at least since cameras were added into the mix.These kids worked the red carpet at a star-studded Jay-Z concert.

I covered the phones when the executive assistant took her lunch.

During my summer at Rolling Stone, there was usually only enough work to occupy two interns, although as many as five of us were in the magazine’s midtown office at one time. In our ample downtime, we often flipped through back issues, admiring pieces from RS alums like Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer.

A typical work day started with our clipping out the major stories of the day — music-related or otherwise — from major newspapers. We then organized them into a press packet, made about 20 copies and distributed them to the editors and writers, all of whom apparently needed us to tell them what was going on in the world.

Other assignments were more fun, like transcribing taped interviews with musicians and actors, and once or twice actually doing some research for an article.

None of us were ever paid. I spent two to three days a week at the magazine and the rest of my time working two other jobs in order to cover my New York City rent.

We were office grunts lucky to be in that environment. We didn’t complain. In the end, we gladly added the words Rolling Stone to our résumés.

Some other poignant points she makes in her article:

  • Instead of choosing actual journalism students, producers chose “abrasive personalities and model good looks,” as Batheja notes. One of the contestants is a sociology major and had NEVER WRITTEN AN ARTICLE before.
  • The interns/contestants “contesterns” are given a posh first assignment, to cover their hometown’s local music scene. Batheja notes that those assignments would be reserved for higher-level writers, not interns. What’s worse, 5 of 6 interns’ work was horrible, Batheja said in her piece.

In the end, this show is not reality. Not even close. What it DOES do is create a flagship “celebrity” for Rolling Stone that they can use to market to younger readers. When the kids think of the magazine, they’ll think of the series winner. Not a bad investment as circulation declines in the industry.

Give that contest winner a blog, an occasional column in the magazine, and that’ll be the last you hear of them (unless MTV is visiting).

Need proof of this? Two words: Jessie Camp.

BTW…want to hear from REAL Rolling Stone interns on what their job is like? Go to this site and sign up for their podcast.

Here’s the trailer for the series from YouTube. It does look pretty swanky.

Thanks to Romenesko at Poynter.org for the tip on this story…

[UPDATE: Found another story at Slate bashing the show, with this CLASSIC paragraph about one “contestern” trying to get a real RS intern to do her work:

Meanwhile, the authentic experience of interning at a glossy magazine goes unexplored by the popular arts—by necessity, perhaps, as it would alienate a popular audience, only shaping up as a nightmarish hybrid of Beckett, Sade, and The Office. (It would be an epic documentary about cassette-tape transcription.)

Instead, we get Tika, who told yesterday’s Daily News that she tried asking one of the real RS interns to type up one of her interviews: “He looked at me like he was going to puke. I asked nicely, ‘Could you help me with this please?’ He was like, b—-, are you crazy? And then he told on me.” You would, too. ]

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