Noah Shachtman was up in Vermont last year, “thinking about just quitting,” when Gus Wenner rang with an opportunity. “I was burnt out after seven-plus years of running the insane asylum—I mean that in the best possible way—that is the Daily Beast,” he told me. But the chance to take the reins of Rolling Stone quickly recharged him. “I couldn’t sleep that night,” he recalled. “I was so excited.”
Such excitement was palpable on a recent visit to Rolling Stone’s Manhattan headquarters, as Shachtman invited me to stick around while he met rising pop star Tai Verdes, who was appearing on the magazine’s Twitch show. He practically bounced into the room and announced in a single breath: “I’m-Noah-Shachtman-I’m-the-editor-of-Rolling-Stone.” Verdes thanked Shachtman for being a fan as the editor rattled off his favorite songs, and assured Verdes he wasn’t like this with every Twitch guest.
Shachtman, an extremely online, F-bomb-dropping Brooklyn dad who played CBGB before establishing himself on the national defense beat, has breathed new life into Rolling Stone since taking over as editor in chief one year ago. He’s increased the publication’s online metabolism in a way that’s reminiscent of how he led the Daily Beast, a site known for punching above its weight with scoops across politics, media, and pop culture. But the breakneck pace is also whiplashing staff at a legacy print magazine whose web presence seemed, until recently, like an afterthought. His hard-charging style in the newsroom and swagger on social media has chafed some staffers, prompting debate over whether Shachtman’s obsession with scoops and tabloid instincts are best suited for iconic music and culture magazine—or, perhaps, are just what it needs to stay relevant in the digital age.
As he kicks into year two atop the masthead, Shachtman, 51, made clear he won’t be taking his foot off the gas. “Are we trying to reach a maximum audience? Fuck yes,” he said. “Are we gonna try and get into the biggest stories of the day across the board? Like, for sure. Do I like being scrappy? Of course I like being scrappy. Do I think that’s a virtue? I do. I do think it’s a virtue. This isn’t, you know, Town & Country,” he said. “This is fucking Rolling Stone here, and scrappy and edgy is part of the DNA.”
You could see his fingerprints immediately, in the exclusives and edgy headlines, and if for some reason you couldn’t tell there was a new sheriff in town, he’d spend the next year telling you so on Twitter, welcoming people to the “new Rolling Stone” and vowing to call out “bad actors,” including past cover stars like Eric Clapton, who has come under fire for being a vaccine skeptic and giving money to a music group with similar views. “The new Rolling Stone is going to confront monsters, even—especially—if it means confronting monsters the magazine helped elevate,” Shachtman tweeted last November in promoting an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Marilyn Manson, a project staffers tell me got under way prior to the new editor’s arrival—in other words, old Rolling Stone. (Manson has denied the allegations.) The magazine sparked controversy last spring for a piece exploring the “final days” of late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, with one interviewee, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, calling the piece “sensationalized and misleading.”
Shachtman can be almost cartoonishly aggressive about journalism. “He once compared the Daily Beast to SEAL Team 6,” as one former staffer recalled. His focus on taking big swings could be limiting: Another former Daily Beast employee said Shachtman seemed more interested in music-related controversies than music itself. “It always seemed like he preferred scoops about artists who had done bad things, like sexual assault stories,” they said, “rather than pieces about their work.”
Shachtman, once a staffer on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, says he got into journalism to help pay rent in between gigs as a ska and reggae bassist. He tells a story—on a few podcasts, and in our interview—about how, in the early 2000s, he felt he had to choose between music and journalism and chose the latter. (Music journalism, a bridge between the two, didn’t work for him: “You know when something hits you so hard, and is so important, and is so emotional to you, that you almost can’t write about it?” he said.) Shachtman covered national security and technology, establishing himself among the earliest journalists doing so primarily for an online audience. “How digital news worked and how to take a wonky subject and make it accessible for a broad audience—he really got those things early,” said a journalist who worked with him at Danger Room, the award-winning Wired blog Shachtman founded in 2007.
His intensity in the newsroom was already apparent. “Sometimes it was a bit much for me. But I get where it’s coming from,” the Danger Room journalist said. “The one thing that will absolutely kill a reporter is not getting attention or interest in their stories and that’s something Noah is certainly not guilty of. Even people who thought he was too demanding would talk about the excitement he brought to the newsroom,” they said. “And you kind of get one with the other.” As Shachtman acknowledges, “I know I’m a different cat and I know I’m intense.”
Many people who’ve worked with Shachtman—I spoke to over a dozen—will tell you he excels at the journalism part of the job, and more than a few will say that, despite being well-intentioned, he fell short as a manager. “I think that he could be, if he took it seriously, but I don’t even think he thinks of that as part of the job,” said one former Daily Beast staffer, among those who described him as at times immature and lacking boundaries. “With certain reporters he’d treat them buddy-buddy, and then use that intimacy to kind of berate you in really personal terms,” said another. A third former Daily Beast staffer recalled how, when she told her exit interviewer that some top editors could work on their communication skills with women (without naming names), the exit interviewer correctly guessed that she was talking about Shachtman. (Shachtman declined to comment on this former staffer’s recollection.)