You Deserve More Than Time’s Person of the Year

    by Mark Glaser
    December 21, 2006

    i-3090fa4e3223b3b8b9198d1ad7be792d-Time Person of the Year Cover.jpg
    I’ve had two strong reactions to the big news that Time magazine had chosen “you” as their Person of the Year for 2006. My first reaction is utter amazement that people at Time magazine — or perhaps, some people — are starting to understand the digital media revolution, the growing power of average people who can now control and create their own media experience.

    Lev Grossman explains Time’s reasoning in his cover story for the magazine:

    It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

    Time’s managing editor Rick Stengel also starts singing chapter and verse from MediaShift’s playbook in his special editor’s note to readers:


    Journalists once had the exclusive province of taking people to places they’d never been. But now a mother in Baghdad with a videophone can let you see a roadside bombing, or a patron in a nightclub can show you a racist rant by a famous comedian. These blogs and videos bring events to the rest of us in ways that are often more immediate and authentic than traditional media. These new techniques, I believe, will only enhance what we do as journalists and challenge us to do it in even more innovative ways.

    My sister Lisa adroitly pointed me to Time’s “You” issue, as well as the Daily Show spoof, which was a classic. “Does this mean the old world media is finally getting it?” she wondered.

    And that’s the heart of my second reaction. While I applaud the editors at Time for making a case for the democratization of media and the explosion of user-generated content and personal control, there’s a whiff of hypocrisy coming from Time on the issue. Time.com has made a lot of effort to launch blogs, podcasts and the like, but how come I can’t link to all their blogs? And why did Ana Marie Cox (formerly Wonkette) stop blogging for Time after the election?

    There’s a feel of show to this praising of Time’s audience, without actually giving them any real power to make change in Time’s own house. It’s almost as if they’re pointing to this special issue — the biggest Person of the Year issue yet! — and saying, “see, we’ve changed.” Instead, they’ve probably confused a lot of people, who think Time is just copping out by picking “You” for the cover (see: Jon Stewart).


    And for people who already do “get it” about new media, they can rightly wonder why 2006 is any different than all the other years of the Internet. Blogs, podcasts, MySpace, Wikipedia, Facebook, and even YouTube were not launched in 2006 and none of that technology is even nearly new.

    Time was right to make a manifesto for media change, but it shouldn’t have been in the Person of the Year issue — it should be in every issue, in every web posting on Time.com, and in its newsroom everyday. That would be the right way to change, without the mylar facade.

    After checking out the online edition of Time’s Person of the Year package, I’ve put together a laundry list of ideas to help Time really give people more power in Time’s own editorial space.

    8 Ways Time Magazine Can Put ‘You’ First

    1. Let people comment on every story posted online. Or at least let them comment on the stories in this package, where the idea is that people’s opinions count.

    2. Create a real online forum for readers. For this package, there’s a page called Send Us Your Thoughts where people can use an online form to send in their thoughts on the Person of the Year choice. Then editors go through the comments and pick out the best ones for publication. It looks more like Letters to the Editor than a real place for open discussion.

    3. Clue in your special advertiser. Perhaps the funniest thing I saw around this online package was the Chrysler advertisement you have to watch before entering the Person of the Year package online. Here’s the text from the video ad: “You might not be Time person of the year…but you can drive like you are.” Um, you really are the Time person of the year.

    4. Link real email addresses to Time bylines. On Stengel’s own essay about the power of “you,” you can’t even email him your feedback personally. The hyperlink on his byline goes to a pop-up form to send a “Letter to the Editor.” Nothing says “Ivory Tower” better than that.

    5. Allow comments on your blogs. OK, there’s no way to comment on Time stories, no online forums and no reporter email addresses on the site. But at least in the Time blogs, you might expect some comments, but no. This is the ultimate way to cut off any conversation with “you,” the reader.

    6. No YouTube stunts. Stengel made a direct video pitch to the YouTube community to submit their own videotaped nominations for Time’s Person of the Year. But his video was uploaded on Dec. 8, so it’s hard to believe he was genuine in asking for input by that late date. It comes off more as pandering to the community so he can get material for his editor’s essay.

    7. Don’t fire staff the week before Christmas. This might be a companywide problem at Time Inc., but holiday hatchet jobs — those are the New York Post’s words, not mine — are not a good way for management to show they care about “you,” the little people.

    8. New blood, new ideas. What is Stengel’s grand plan for the digital age? Hire a bunch of old-timers. There’s nothing wrong with veteran journalists, but what new ideas can Michael Kinsley, David Von Drehle or Bill Kristol bring to the table to help get the former audience involved? Seems more like “us” than “you.”

    What do you think? Was Time’s choice of “you” as Person of the Year a true nod to the changing mediasphere, or just a lot of show with little substance? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Holiday Note: I’ll be taking time off from blogging over the next holiday week, along with all the other non-working working Americans. MediaShift will be back in action the first week of January. Enjoy the holidays and take some time away from your computer, if you can!

    UPDATE (1/8/07): I’m not sure that Time Magazine was actually listening to me, but they did complete a recent redesign of their website. While the redesign looks nice, there aren’t many changes to trumpet when it comes to listening better to “you,” the exalted reader. They do now have comments on blogs, and Ana Marie Cox seems to be back out of blog hibernation. But when you click on a byline, you still get the pop-up box to submit a Letter to the Editor. Ugh.

    Tagged: magazine new media
    • Good list, Mark. Personally, I still think they should have given the award to “us” rather than “you,” since it’s the communities that form around user-generated content that make so many of these revolutions possible. Of course, if they said, “The person of the year is us” – or “we” if you want to be grammatically correct – people wouldn’t have been totally confused as to why they were giving the award to themselves. Still, I wish the us/we concept had come through stronger. That, and the educational impact of all of this stuff. But that’s just me. :-) -andy

    • just a lot of show with little substance definitely.

      This should`ve been the sign for the (finally) radical change of how mainstream media see them selfs in the new environment, but obviously it is not.

      Too bad that the buzz was very big, with mostly wrong interpretations.

    • You guys are correct to point out Time’s hypocracy. They see a parade and they are trying to jump out in front of it as if they were leading. Can’t blame ’em. They are in business to sell magazines. This was a good gimmick from their point of view.

      But here’s the thing, Time is merely a pawn in something much bigger than they even know. It’s the zeitgeist itself that caused that cover to flash us in the face.

      You guys must remember that as pro bloggers you are far more evolved in your understanding of things in this modern electronic age than the average Joe or Jane on the street.

      You didn’t need the message. You got it long ago. But Joe and Jane do need the light turned on and this cover is for them. Now is the moment of truth.

      This cover/ person of the year proclamation is an indication of us becoming ever nearer to a critical mass in consciousness where even the least savvy among us get it that the internet, the web and social networks in particular have the oomph to wrest the power back from the corporate profiteers and guide the world into more people and planet first endeavors.

    • Time is irrelevant. It is an antique. The issue tells us NOTHING new. Time put “you” on the cover and it’s as if we’re now supposed to be in awe, simply because it’s Time. But I’m not impressed. To be sure, it’s a media title that still holds some equity or nobody would be talking about it. But I wonder if the intrigue of this cover has more to do with irony or reminiscence of old times, versus any inherent brilliance in any editorial decision.

    • Arthur Pincus

      Great post Mark as usual, but am I missing something here….I wanted to send an email directly to you, rather than posting a comment and I couldn’t seem to do that. Also I wanted to forward this post to a colleague who shares my particular interest in what you are saying and couldn’t do that either. I guess I’ll forward my email to him. Keep up the good work.

    • Leonard Glaser

      I like your idea of immediate responses by email to stories. That would give useable feedback. The advertisers would love feedback to their commercials as well.

    • Michele

      I find Time relevant. I learn new things from them every week, and I surf a wide variety of boards and communities daily. They and NPR are the 2 mainstream sources I go to so that I can be well-rounded instead of viewing only what I want or only what the Hive is talking about. An educated elite still has a place in the 2.O world.

      I like your list of things for Time to do, although I don’t have a problem with #4- protecting the journalists seems a courtesy. Absolutely, Time can be less of an ivory tower. I’ve always found the entire concept of Person of the Year to be gimmicky myself. Along with the irony of the advertiser’s faux pas, I noticed the black subtitle overscores the IM in Time, which goes along with your point that they aren’t really there themselves.

    • Thanks for making this talking point, Mark.

      I see TIME’s “Person of the Year: You” as a bit of a tactic to link itself with the democratization and community vernacular surging through new media channels. Since TIME is an old-school media player, it risks losing cache in an era of 21st blog-o-bytes and social, niche, networking news. With the “You” issue, they may demonstrate their knowledge of this fact of falling behind the “cool” of modern news but admitting this doesnt insert them into the race as a top player. Like you suggest, Mark, TIME needs to make some active, conscientious changes in how it interacts with the social networking of news if it intends to be taken seriously.

      The fact is, most media savvy people today already know they are their own “Person of the Year” so to speak thats just how things have changed over the last few years. I dont see it as narcissistic, as in “I am the only important being,” but more about being aware that I (as in the “my” and “you” reflected in the names MySpace and Youtube) matter, and because I know that I matter, Im going to engage with society, be active, be heard and listen. This seems to be the trend of new media engaging on the world stage of idea sharing. If TIME really gets this, then they need to prove it.

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