Time’s Person of the Year: Usually A Person (Sometimes)

pbumpSoon, my friends – soon we will know who the Gods of Journalistic Objectivity have determined to be the “Person of the Year,” as featured in Time magazine. You may have heard that the two people leading the pack right now are Mr. Twitter and Dame Economy.

This, at least, according to the judgment of a panel comprised of the following people: Rudy Giuliani, Barbara Walters, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Gayle King, Tom Colicchio and the Honorable Luke Ravenstahl. (I’d heard of five of those people, though Ravenstahl only made the cut because my sister lives in Pittsburgh.) This distinguished crew’s final vote: three votes for Twitter, three for the economy. (Hey sis! Your Mayor thinks Twitter is a person!)

For fifty-five years from 1927 to 1982, Time (which originally conceived of the “Man of the Year” during a slow news week) managed to bestow the honor on actual people. But everything went haywire after the magazine named Ayatollah Khomeini the honoree in 1979. It’s hard to deny that Khomeini had enormous impact on the world that year, but people weren’t thrilled with the bestowing of a putative honor on someone whose minions were holding Americans hostage. Time got cautious – so, after two years with obvious winners (Ronald Reagan and Lech Walesa) they copped out. In 1982, they declared The Computer “Machine of the Year;” Alan Turing likely rolled over in his grave.

In following years, the trend continued. In 1984, the winner was Peter Ueberroth, in recognition of the awesome job he did with the 1984 Olympics. (Americans won every single event including “Machine of the Year.”) In 1988, Time declared the winner to be the Earth, though our home planet won only because the Moon and its allies boycotted.

Let’s say, then, just for the sake of argument, that Time actually declares a human being to be the winner of its 2009 competition. I crunched the numbers to figure out how likely that was and if we might be able to make any predictions of who will win based on past awardees. Below, they’re categorized by gender, nationality, reason for winning and personhood. Spoiler! Predictions can be made.

Gender
Winners, by gender
Time has five times (five) named women as stand-alone honorees. Those five were: Wallis Simpson, who was able to marry the King of England once he abdicated his throne; Queen Elizabeth II; Corazon Aquino; a group of corporate whistleblowers all of whom happened to be women; and, in 1975, Women. Women, as in every single American woman. (So if you’re an American woman who was alive in 1975, you’ve won the award twice: as a woman, and as You, in 2006. Congrats.)

There have been slightly more times when a pairing or group including both genders won (including some groupings like “The American Soldier”) – but on the whole, this is an old boy’s club.

Nationality
Winners, by nationality
The color in that map is scaled from light to dark orange; the more winners from a country, the darker the orange. See where we’re going with this?

Time is an American magazine, of course, so it’s not terribly surprising that the vast majority of award winners hail from here. And don’t be upset that you’re not recognized, Canadians – for the past fourteen years you’ve had your own award. (Which has gone to ten different people, no women, and, two years ago, to the Canadian dollar.)

Reason for Winning
Winners, by reason
This is a bit more subjective – but it’s unarguably the case that most of the winners have been politicians or political newsmakers. Please, feel free to debate my categorizations (derived, I should note, from Wikipedia’s index of winners). “Change,” for example refers to winners chosen for the social change they represent. Think MLK or Gandhi. Or Kissinger.

Person?
Winners, by what they were, so to speak
Most of the time, the Person of the Year is a person, or, at the very least, a group of people. The odds that we end up with a Twitter or economy victor? 1 in 50. I’ll take those odds.

So. Any predictions?

Actually, that majority combination – an American male who operates in the political world – has only won about a third of the time. Since Obama won last year, it seems unlikely that he’ll win again (Nobel not withstanding) – and it’s hard to think of what politician has had a bigger impact than him. So who else might it be?

Time’s goal, of course, is to sell magazines, so they may go for something controversial. Probably not Hitler (1938), Stalin (1939, 1942) or Khomeini (1979) controversial. But maybe Johnson (1933) controversial.

Hugh Johnson was pretty much exactly what the radical right thinks Obama is: a head of the National Recovery Administration in FDR’s New Deal who was also reported to be a fascist. In fact, Time itself helped to out him, noting that, during a Recovery Administration parade, Johnson raised his hand in a “continuous Fascist salute.” Oddly, though, that article came out the same year as Johnson’s award. Public perception of fascism changed a lot between 1933 and 1945, for whatever reason.

Who fits the mold of being “Johnson controversial”? Someone who would be considered unacceptable by half of America. Think of former Governors you know.

A safe bet is that Time, no matter who it chooses, hopes to avoid what happened with their 1931 choice, Pierre Laval. Laval, the first European to be picked, was named while the world struggled to emerge from the Great Depression. Newly elected as Premier of the Republic, Laval’s optimism in the face of increasing international and economic tensions and a then-famous tete-a-tete with Herbert Hoover made him a media darling.

However. Following the outbreak of World War Two, and the accession of a large part of France by Germany, Laval, though historically antagonistic to the Germans, became the head of the Vichy (German-controlled) state. In that role, he collaborated with Nazi Germany, including facilitating the deportation of non-French Jews to concentration camps. After the war, Laval was tried for treason by the French Government and executed, with some good reason.

Man of the Year!

Time’s accolade, while always tainted by marketing needs, has been through a particularly rough stretch. (Case in point: one-third of the past nine winners have been George W. Bush or Rudy Giuliani.) There are three options for the magazine this year: name a deserving person and sell fewer magazines, name an undeserving person and be mocked, or name a thing and be mocked. Not an envious position for a stumbling business.

So I offer a solution: me. I’m American, male, and have worked in politics. I use Twitter and participate (however modestly) in the economy. Am I deserving of the award? No. But I promise – I swear on my future children – I will not commit treason, resulting in my execution. Which must count for something.

Of course, I also just won in 2006. This deciding thing is harder than it looks.


Time’s Person of the Year: Usually A Person

pbumpSoon, my friends – soon we will know who the Gods of Journalistic Objectivity have determined to be the “Person of the Year,” as featured in Time magazine. You may have heard that the two people leading the pack right now are Mr. Twitter and Dame Economy.

This, at least, according to the judgment of a panel comprised of the following people: Rudy Giuliani, Barbara Walters, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Gayle King, Tom Colicchio and the Honorable Luke Ravenstahl. (I’d heard of five of those people, though Ravenstahl only made the cut because my sister lives in Pittsburgh.) This distinguished crew’s final vote: three votes for Twitter, three for the economy. (Hey sis! Your Mayor thinks Twitter is a person!)

For fifty-five years from 1927 to 1982, Time (which originally conceived of the “Man of the Year” during a slow news week) managed to bestow the honor on actual people. But everything went haywire after the magazine named Ayatollah Khomeini the honoree in 1979. It’s hard to deny that Khomeini had enormous impact on the world that year, but people weren’t thrilled with the bestowing of a putative honor on someone whose minions were holding Americans hostage. Time got cautious – so, after two years with obvious winners (Ronald Reagan and Lech Walesa) they copped out. In 1982, they declared The Computer “Machine of the Year;” Alan Turing likely rolled over in his grave.

In following years, the trend continued. In 1984, the winner was Peter Ueberroth, in recognition of the awesome job he did with the 1984 Olympics. (Americans won every single event including “Machine of the Year.”) In 1988, Time declared the winner to be the Earth, though our home planet won only because the Moon and its allies boycotted.

Let’s say, then, just for the sake of argument, that Time actually declares a human being to be the winner of its 2009 competition. I crunched the numbers to figure out how likely that was and if we might be able to make any predictions of who will win based on past awardees. Below, they’re categorized by gender, nationality, reason for winning and personhood. Spoiler! Predictions can be made.

Gender
Winners, by gender
Time has five times (five) named women as stand-alone honorees. Those five were: Wallis Simpson, who was able to marry the King of England once he abdicated his throne; Queen Elizabeth II; Corazon Aquino; a group of corporate whistleblowers all of whom happened to be women; and, in 1975, Women. Women, as in every single American woman. (So if you’re an American woman who was alive in 1975, you’ve won the award twice: as a woman, and as You, in 2006. Congrats.)

There have been slightly more times when a pairing or group including both genders won (including some groupings like “The American Soldier”) – but on the whole, this is an old boy’s club.

Nationality
Winners, by nationality
The color in that map is scaled from light to dark orange; the more winners from a country, the darker the orange. See where we’re going with this?

Time is an American magazine, of course, so it’s not terribly surprising that the vast majority of award winners hail from here. And don’t be upset that you’re not recognized, Canadians – for the past fourteen years you’ve had your own award. (Which has gone to ten different people, no women, and, two years ago, to the Canadian dollar.)

Reason for Winning
Winners, by reason
This is a bit more subjective – but it’s unarguably the case that most of the winners have been politicians or political newsmakers. Please, feel free to debate my categorizations (derived, I should note, from Wikipedia’s index of winners). “Change,” for example refers to winners chosen for the social change they represent. Think MLK or Gandhi. Or Kissinger.

Person?
Winners, by what they were, so to speak
Most of the time, the Person of the Year is a person, or, at the very least, a group of people. The odds that we end up with a Twitter or economy victor? 1 in 50. I’ll take those odds.

So. Any predictions?

Actually, that majority combination – an American male who operates in the political world – has only won about a third of the time. Since Obama won last year, it seems unlikely that he’ll win again (Nobel not withstanding) – and it’s hard to think of what politician has had a bigger impact than him. So who else might it be?

Time’s goal, of course, is to sell magazines, so they may go for something controversial. Probably not Hitler (1938), Stalin (1939, 1942) or Khomeini (1979) controversial. But maybe Johnson (1933) controversial.

Hugh Johnson was pretty much exactly what the radical right thinks Obama is: a head of the National Recovery Administration in FDR’s New Deal who was also reported to be a fascist. In fact, Time itself helped to out him, noting that, during a Recovery Administration parade, Johnson raised his hand in a “continuous Fascist salute.” Oddly, though, that article came out the same year as Johnson’s award. Public perception of fascism changed a lot between 1933 and 1945, for whatever reason.

Who fits the mold of being “Johnson controversial”? Someone who would be considered unacceptable by half of America. Think of former Governors you know.

A safe bet is that Time, no matter who it chooses, hopes to avoid what happened with their 1931 choice, Pierre Laval. Laval, the first European to be picked, was named while the world struggled to emerge from the Great Depression. Newly elected as Premier of the Republic, Laval’s optimism in the face of increasing international and economic tensions and a then-famous tete-a-tete with Herbert Hoover made him a media darling.

However. Following the outbreak of World War Two, and the accession of a large part of France by Germany, Laval, though historically antagonistic to the Germans, became the head of the Vichy (German-controlled) state. In that role, he collaborated with Nazi Germany, including facilitating the deportation of non-French Jews to concentration camps. After the war, Laval was tried for treason by the French Government and executed, with some good reason.

Man of the Year!

Time’s accolade, while always tainted by marketing needs, has been through a particularly rough stretch. (Case in point: one-third of the past nine winners have been George W. Bush or Rudy Giuliani.) There are three options for the magazine this year: name a deserving person and sell fewer magazines, name an undeserving person and be mocked, or name a thing and be mocked. Not an envious position for a stumbling business.

So I offer a solution: me. I’m American, male, and have worked in politics. I use Twitter and participate (however modestly) in the economy. Am I deserving of the award? No. But I promise – I swear on my future children – I will not commit treason, resulting in my execution. Which must count for something.

Of course, I also just won in 2006. This deciding thing is harder than it looks.


Old Media Excess: Is Bloomberg The New Condé Nast?

popupThis weekend’s New York Times feature about Bloomberg L.P., the “28-year-old media and technology company” started by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in 1981, reads like anachronistic peek into the bygone days of media, packed with equal parts success and hubris, looking both to history and to the future.

In a time when the media landscape more than resembles a graveyard, everyone at Bloomberg is upbeat and optimistic. Oh, and ambitious. “We want to be the world’s most influential news organization,” says Andrew Lack, the chief of Bloomberg television, radio and “dot-com endeavors.”

It’s also an expert example of how good big media companies are at being covered by other big media companies, even down to breaking down the fourth wall of journalism and admitting the public relations manipulations happening right before the readers’ eyes: “Oh, my! I don’t want to sound as if I’m on message,” one employee says, “laughing apprehensively while also sending a ‘help me’ look to a Bloomberg spokeswoman nearby.” It’s almost scientific.

Then the Times gets in on the meta-something game, referencing itself as a counterpoint about the state of big media:

Publishing giants like Condé Nast, Time Inc. and The New York Times, with their veteran scribes and rich histories, have laid off people and scaled back. Bloomberg may lack the pedigree and gloss of some of its rivals, but it has one thing they don’t right now: money to throw around.

The cash-heavy company is playing news like the Yankees play baseball, buying up stars that have gotten too expensive for their struggling brands, recruiting “refugees” from the Wall Street Journal and Fortune. Plus there are new bureaus “in places like Ecuador and Abu Dhabi.” Wordly!

Its editorial staff (which includes radio, TV and Web site workers) now numbers 2,200, compared with 1,250 journalists at The Times and 1,900 at Dow Jones (a figure that includes the newswires and the Journal staff).

The four-page feature takes the reader through the BusinessWeek purchase (”Bloomberg opened its wallet and snatched it away from circling private equity firms in October for just $5 million in cash”) and their new readership vision (”Main Street readers and, much more important for Bloomberg, senior executives, government leaders and other global movers and shakers”).

But then comes the excess and uncontrollable flashbacks to the days of excess that got publishers like Condé Nast into the position they’re in now:

Employees snack on free kiwis and pomegranates and gulp fancy sodas. The company even employs full-time bathroom attendants to wipe up errant droplets of water on the countertops.

It almost sounds like an alternative universe until the reveal: “Although Bloomberg, which is privately held, draws attention for its media ambitions, a vast majority of the company’s projected $6.3 billion in revenue — and nearly all of its profit — derives from financial information systems.”

A-ha! With news as a secondary business, things flourish. Otherwise? Not so much. And that doesn’t mean it will be fun!

[T]he place can still come across as something of a white-collar, digital sweatshop — terminals and ID cards, for example, closely monitor employees’ comings and goings.

But don’t get it twisted: “This is not an old-media company,” Mr. Lack says. “We’re a new kid on the block in a new world order.”

The entire feature is well worth a read, if only for how mind-bendingly different it is than any other media stories of recent months. It might hurt your head.

(photo via Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)


Newsweek Cover Races To The Bottom With Old Photo Of Palin

-1

How to solve a problem like the coverage of Sarah Palin? According to Newsweek you take the low road. The weekly magazine, which since its relaunch has opted for increasingly blogosphere-like headlines to generate readers, apparently has decided that the best way to cover Sarah Palin’s reemergence on the national stage is with a old photo from Runner’s World (Palin is well known for running marathons). Wow. Were there no other photos available? Did they perhaps neglect the Google search option in their rush to be as condescending and marginalizing as possible? Maybe so. The headline, however, would suggest otherwise.

Yesterday Steve Krakauer noted that MSNBC had provided us with preview of one way Palin would be welcomed back — “with marginalization, jokes and borderline sexist segments.” And I noted that without question “there will be more than enough reasons to hold Palin to account in the coming weeks without resorting to infuriating nonsense like this.” And she will, as she usually does every time she opens her mouth. But resorting to a photo like this (and yes I realize she posed for it, though in an entirely different context) to accompany such a condescending headline makes me conclude that Newsweek thinks she is an annoying little problem because she looks good in runners shorts and not a problem because, as both the magazine’s articles suggest, she is the 21st century’s version of Barry Goldwater and has broad national appeal, for a whole slew of reason, very few of which having to do with how she looks in runner’s shorts.

The fact of the matter is she is a problem and the accompanying article is actually well-argued — pointing out history is not on Palin’s side in term’s a populist nominee winning the White House — and worth a read, as is Meacham’s column which touches on many of the same points. But wow does that cover make me not care what the magazine has to say. Of course the fact that picture exists in the first place makes me wish more that Palin was capable of exercising better judgement and that the most powerful woman in the Republican party wasn’t quite so easy to mock.


Will Budget Travel Be The Next Magazine Buried?

6a00d83455aa2369e200e5523a50a58834-800wi

At this point it’s just depressing. New York magazine’s Chris Rovzar – the Daily Intel blogger who is absolutely all over the media beat these days — is reporting that the Washington Post Company’s Budget Travel will be the next magazine to fold outright, based on tips from numerous sources.

Rovzar highlights the company’s “33 percent drop in revenue for their magazine division in the most recent quarter, compared to the third quarter last year,” casting doubts on the public claim that the losses were centered around diminishing ad revenue at Newsweek, the eponymous newsweekly of the company’s magazine division.

Daily Intel reports:

We have a call in to reps for the magazine for confirmation, and will update if we hear back. (Editor-in-chief Nina Willdorf replied to our inquiry only with: “Heading out of town. Can’t talk. You can call me Monday.”)

That’s not exactly comforting, and as Rovzar notes wryly, “this is very sad — for readers, for employees, and for all of us — that people can’t even afford to travel on a budget anymore.” Flickr it is!


New York Times Gets Vulgar With “Douche”-Laden Trend Piece

GeorgeCarlin-L3I bet you never thought you’d see the day when you could pick up a copy of the New York Times and see the word “douche” on page one. And we’re not talking hygiene! That’s right — in today’s “More Than Ever, You Can Say That on Television,” the story begins with the casual pejorative — a favorite of adolescents ages 12 to 20 (and a certain segment of the testosterone-heavy brotherhood who add the suffix “-bag”) — to make the case for a language-based trend piece.

You see, George Carlin’s 1972 classic “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” is a thing of the past:

On many nights this fall, it has been possible to tune in to broadcast network television during prime time and hear a character call someone else a “douche.”

And it’s quantitative! In 2009, “the word has surfaced at least 76 times” across “26 prime-time network series” — up from “30 uses on 15 shows in all of 2007 and just six instances on four programs in 2005.” These comedy writers sure are creative with their newfangled slang.

“[T]he word “douche” is neither obscene nor profane,” the Times explains, but “it seems to represent the latest of broadcast television’s continuing efforts to expand the boundaries of taste, in part to stem the tide of defections by its audience to largely unregulated cable television.” A jump? Maybe. But the copy is entertaining and the story is already rising on the most popular stories list, currently sitting at number four in the most e-mailed column.

Interestingly, watchdog blog NYT Picker takes issue with the story, not for its obscenities, but for its sources:

It may be true, and probably is.

But seeing TV reporter Edward Wyatt and the NYT base its front-page reporting on numbers the paper actually requested from the Parents Television Council — a notoriously conservative TV watchdog group that has brought 99 percent of all indecency complaints before the FCC (we learned that from an excellent 2004 NYT story) — makes us a little sick.

The blog goes on to point out the absurdity in refusing to print the word “shit” — as in last week’s story about famed twitter ShitMyDadSays — while basing an entire piece around the word “douche,” calling “the indecency obsession that governs television” and the Times “outmoded and anachronistic.”

And not only did the Times cite the Parents Television Council — they worked directly with them: “Wyatt’s story reports that the NYT asked the PTC to compile the numbers for its “douche” census.” Is that reliable reporting, the blog asks? “The PTC has a stated, singular bias, and its interests are served by Wyatt’s story in promoting its cause. Shouldn’t the NYT do its own monitoring and reporting on these trends?”

As strange, and possibly wrong as it is, it does nothing to take away from the story’s entertainment value. Seeing the Times use douche is like hearing your grandparents curse.


Paper Runs Front Page Liquor Ad Against News Of Ft. Hood Shooting

As front-page newspaper advertisements have gained popularity among cash-strapped papers, they’ve brought in a lot of money, but they pose the question of whether light-hearted ads belong next to hard news. Case-in-point: one daily advertised wine and spirits with a rabbit surrounded by balloons the day after the Fort Hood shootings.The front page of the November 6, 2009 San Antonio Express-News, courtesy of the always-astute Fitz & Jen:

advertising-against-fort-hood-shootings

As a handful of commenters on the site point out, websites run ads against tragic or otherwise negative news stories all the time; should they stop? Where’s the cutoff?

Fair questions to ask, but the front page of a newspaper is still a privileged space, which is why papers took to selling front-page ads in the first place. Regardless of the broader question, it’s safe to say that balloons and rabbits will probably not sell much in the way of wine, spirits, and finer foods next to news of a national tragedy.

(via Fitz & Jen)