There's been a tiny Internet storm over the November cover of Wired, which features an up-close image of a pair of digitally enhanced breasts.
One of the critics, which got the attention of Wired's editor Chris Anderson, is Cindy Royal, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University. She announced on her blog that she was "breaking up" with Wired over the Double Ds and proceeded to point out how the monthly magazine has consistently failed to give women leaders in technology the cover treatment. She listed a variety of women who have been on the cover, but pointed out that most were "jokey" and not true leaders in the tech industry.
Anderson responded respectfully on Royal's blog with an "I know but...," explaining that it's impossible to find a female to put on the cover that will sell on the newsstands. He also points out that it's nearly impossible to put people on the cover period, since few execs in the tech industry are household names. If only Julia Roberts had created the iPhone!
The article attached to the cover in question is basically a profile of a company called Cytori Therapheutics that hopes to use stem cell technology to produce any number of things, including breasts. Interestingly, the reporter on the story was a woman, Sharon Begley, whose name is prominently featured on the cover a few inches below where the sternum branches off from the clavicle. I wonder if the editors somehow felt better about their cover choice given that it featured a woman's name, if not a high-powered female tech executive.
Once you get past the cover to read the article, the boob photos don't let up. There's also an illustration of how one grows (artificially) a pair of breasts. Sounds tasteful, right?
I first saw the article after a friend on Facebook (a woman) linked to it. The link came along with a tiny thumbnail of the cover photo, but in that size and context it didn't really faze me. After all, you can see a lot more cleavage in some profile photos.
But when the actual issue landed on my breakfast nook (yes, I'm a subscriber; and yes, I have a table in my kitchen that I call my breakfast nook) I was a little annoyed. My immediate reaction was that the Wired team had gotten a little lazy. Perhaps they had another celebrity or concept cover in mind but that story fell through. And they were left scrambling. And what could be easier than digging up some clip art of a well-endowed chest and placing the Wired logo over it?
I can sympathize with the folks at Wired. Coming up with creative covers month after month is no doubt challenging. But this boob cover really made them look like boobs. I get that the majority of Wired readers are men. But I'm pretty sure if those men (or ladies) are looking for some titillation (pun intended), there are other better magazines (or websites) out there for that. People (men and women) look to Wired for the latest in technology. God knows there's enough happening in that space to fill a daily publication, never mind a monthly. So the tissue engineering cover story ends up coming across as gimmicky - certainly not thought-provoking as Wired often aspires to be.
So, am I "breaking up" with Wired? No. But I'll be expecting better next month.
I completely acknowledge the irony of the fact that I am giving Wired free publicity through this blog post. I've made my peace with that.