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.
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.