'People Magazine' Issues Call To Action Over Gun Violence

Oct 8, 2015
Originally published on October 13, 2015 8:16 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

People magazine attracts millions of readers every week with a mix of human interest and celebrity stories. This week's issue contains one feature that injects a strong political note. It's a story of the mass shooting at a college in Oregon. And at the end of the piece, the magazine includes contact information for all 535 members of Congress. It does not tell its readers what position to take. It just says write. Jess Cagle is editorial director of People, and he joins us now. Good morning.

JESS CAGLE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What is it about the Oregon shooting that made the magazine take this step, considering, sadly, you have covered other shootings before?

CAGLE: Well, I think that's the point. We've covered other shootings before so many times, and, you know, we were - when this happened, we were obviously - we were covering it beat by beat on people.com. We started planning out how we were going to cover it in this week's issue. And it was - it felt frustrating, and it felt infuriating that here we were again. And when President Obama spoke about the Oregon incident and he said, my response has become routine, the media's response has become routine, it really hit home with me. And I thought, well, what can we do this time that is different? We cover these things the same way all the time. And I, you know...

MONTAGNE: Right.

CAGLE: ...I think we generally...

MONTAGNE: Yeah.

CAGLE: ...In the media cover these things well. I think at People we cover it well. But what else could you do? And I think with this one, it's a service to the readers. You get to the end of a story like that, and you're seeing the faces of these dead people because we pay tribute to the victims; that's what we do. And you're left with nothing to do about it. So I think...

MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask...

CAGLE: ...That this time, we gave them something to do about it.

MONTAGNE: Let me ask you then - you didn't tell anybody what to do. Presumably, your readers are - as is the country - divided, and maybe even bitterly, over the question of gun control. What has been the response so far?

CAGLE: The response has been generally positive. I have seen some anger, you know, in comments online and things like that because - and I didn't realize this - I think the minute you mention gun violence, there is a - there are a lot of people who think that means you want to take their guns away or that you don't believe in our right to bear arms. And that's not true at all. By the way, if your position was to take everybody's guns away, well, that's a - that doesn't even make sense. It's impossible. So I have been a little surprised at how angry even trying to have the discussion makes some people.

MONTAGNE: We only just have a couple of seconds. But if you have the 10-second version of why you didn't tell people what to do - is it sort of a yes or no - the magazine does not see itself as political?

CAGLE: Well, no, I think it's too divisive. Also, what to do - I don't have the answer.

MONTAGNE: Well, we'll have to leave it at that. Thank you very much.

CAGLE: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Jess Cagle is editorial director of People magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.