Everything You Wanted to Know About TIME’s Person of the Year

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TIME Man of the Year 1927: Charles Lindbergh
1927: Charles LindberghTIME

How long has Person of the Year been around?

It has a great origin story—or maybe more of a legend. At the end of 1927, the editors of TIME looked at the year’s covers and realized they had somehow failed to put Charles Lindbergh on the cover. He’d done his historic flight in May, but no cover. They decided they could get away with putting him on the cover months later by calling him “Man of the Year.” It was a stopgap. And here we are 87 years later. The challenge is that on one hand, we’re trying to make a decision about who best represents the news of the year. But the pick also needs to have archival value. You need the sense that it will stand the test of time. So ideally, we want our Person of the Year to be both a snapshot of where the world is and a picture of where it’s going. Someone, or in rare cases, something, that feels like a force of history.

(TIME Unveils Finalists for 2014 Person of the Year)

Tell me about the ‘for better or worse’ caveat that’s often attached to Person of the Year.

The criterion is “the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.” A lot of news is bad news and a lot of people who make bad news are very powerful people. TIME’s editors aren’t immune to that reality. Famously, they named Hitler in 1938 and Stalin in 1939 and again in 1942. These were men who had a huge impact, not just in those years but over the entire century. It’s easy to stand by those choices, looking back. Arguably you could do a bad guy every year and be justified.

Earth isn’t a person and neither is the personal computer. What’s the deal with these inanimate objects?

It’s a good question. What I hear anecdotally is that readers are most satisfied when the Person of the Year is a person. Sometimes it’s been a thing; sometimes it’s been a collective. In 2011, it was The Protester, a sort of representative figure. We thought long and hard about that. Could we execute it in a way that would be satisfying? Would people understand what we were trying to say? We decided that we could, and they would. I think the personal computer really stands up. Although Steve Jobs was profiled for that issue, and you could argue the editors might have been more forward-looking had they named Steve Jobs for that year, 1982.

(These Are the Most Searched Candidates on the Person of the Year Poll)

Is that something you hear a lot? Why wasn’t Steve Jobs ever Person of the Year?

Definitely, particularly the year he died. To me the optimal year would have been 1984, when the first Mac came out. The 1984 Person of the Year was Peter Ueberroth, who ran the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Looking back, it’s easy to judge, but that would have been a good year for Steve.

How secretive is the process of putting together the issue?

It’s a really fun journalistic property and I think a lot of fun leaks out of it if people have a sense of who it’s going to be. We have runners-up in the issue, so there are a number of stories in the mix each year, and we have to stay flexible, given the nature of the news. Very few people on the staff know who the front-runner is, or even the short list. Really only the people for whom it’s necessary to know, know — including a small circle of editors and the writer working on the story. Layout meetings are held in secret. This is my fifth year editing it and I’ve developed a good poker face.

See Every Person Of The Year Cover Ever

Photograph by Mark Mahaney for TIME
Portrait by Jason Seiler for TIME
Greta Thunberg Time Person of the Year Cover
Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva for TIME
2018: The GuardiansPhotographs by Moises Saman-Magnum Photos for TIME
TIME Person of the Year 2017: The Silence BreakersBilly & Hells for TIME
2016: Donald Trump person of the year
2016: Donald TrumpTIME
TIME person of the year angela merkel 2015
2015: Angela MerkelTIME
TIME Person of the Year 2014 Magazine Cover: The Ebola Fighters 141222
2014: The Ebola FightersTIME
2013: Pope Francis
2013: Pope FrancisTIME
2012: Barack Obama
2012: President Barack ObamaTIME
2011: The Protester
2011: The ProtesterTIME
2010: Mark Zuckerberg
2010: Mark Zuckerberg TIME
2009: Ben Bernanke TIME
2008: Barack Obama
2008: President Barack ObamaTIME
2007: Vladimir Putin
2007: Vladimir PutinTIME
2006: YouTIME
2005: The Good Samaritans: Bill Gates, Bono, Melinda Gates
2005: The Good Samaritans: Bill Gates, Bono, Melinda GatesTIME
2004: President George W. Bush
2004: President George W. BushTIME
2003: The American Soldier
2003: The American SoldierTIME
2002: The Whistleblowers
2002: The Whistleblowers: Cynthia Cooper, Coleen Rowley and Sherron Watkins TIME
2001: Rudy Giuliani
2001: Rudy Giuliani TIME
2000: President George W. Bush
2000: President George W. BushTIME
1999: Jeff Bezos
1999: Jeff BezosTIME
1998: Kenneth Starr ad Bill Clinton
1998: Kenneth Starr and Bill ClintonTIME
1997: Andrew Grove
1997: Andrew GroveTIME
1996: Dr. David HoTIME
1995: Newt GingrichTIME
1994: Pope John Paul II
1994: Pope John Paul IITIME
1993: The Peacemakers: Yitzhak Rabin, Nelson Mandela, F.W. De Klerk, Yasser ArafatTIME
1992: President Bill ClintonTIME
1991: Ted Turner
1991: Ted TurnerTIME
1990: President George H.W. BushTIME
1989: Mikhail Gorbachev
1989: Mikhail GorbachevTIME
1988: Endangered EarthTIME
1987: Mikhail Gorbachev
1987: Mikhail GorbachevTIME
1986: Corazon Aquino
1986: Corazon AquinoTIME
1985: Deng Xiaoping
1985: Deng XiaopingTIME
1984: Peter Ueberroth
1984: Peter UeberrothTIME
1983: President Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov
1983: President Ronald Reagan and Yuri AndropovTIME
1982: The ComputerTIME
1981: Lech Wałęsa
1981: Lech Wałęsa TIME
1980: President Ronald Reagan
1980: President Ronald ReaganTIME
1979: Ayatollah Khomeini
1979: Ayatollah KhomeiniTIME
1978: Deng Xiaoping
1978: Deng XiaopingTIME
1977: Anwar Sadat
1977: Anwar SadatTIME
1976: President Jimmy CarterTIME
1975: American Women
1975: American WomenTIME
1974: King FaisalTIME
1973: John Sirica
1973: John SiricaTIME
1972: President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger
1972: President Richard Nixon and Henry KissingerTIME
1971: President Richard Nixon
1971: President Richard NixonTIME
1970: Willy Brandt
1970: Willy BrandtTIME
1969: The Middle Americans
1969: The Middle AmericansTIME
1968: The Apollo 8 astronauts
1968: The Apollo 8 AstronautsTIME
1967: President Lyndon B. Johnson
1967: President Lyndon B. JohnsonTIME
1966: Men and Women 25 and UnderTIME
1965: William Westmoreland
1965: William WestmorelandTIME
1964: Lyndon B. Johnson
1964: Lyndon B. JohnsonTIME
1963: Martin Luther King, Jr.
1963: Martin Luther King, Jr.TIME
1962: Pope John XXIII
1962: Pope John XXIIITIME
1961: President John F. Kennedy
1961: President John F. KennedyTIME
1960: U.S. Scientists
1960: U.S. ScientistsTIME
1959: President Dwight D. Eisenhower
1959: President Dwight D. EisenhowerTIME
1958: Charles de Gaulle
1958: Charles de GaulleTIME
1957: Nikita Khrushchev
1957: Nikita KhrushchevTIME
1956: The Hungarian Freedom FighterTIME
1955: Harlow Curtice
1955: Harlow CurticeTIME
1954: John Foster Dulles
1954: John Foster DullesTIME
1953: Konrad Adenauer
1953: Konrad AdenauerTIME
1952: Queen Elizabeth II
1952: Queen Elizabeth IITIME
1951: Mohammad Mossadegh
1951: Mohammad MossadeghTIME
1950: The American Fighting Man
1950: The American Fighting Man TIME
1949: Winston Churchill
1949: Winston ChurchillTIME
1948: President Harry S. Truman
1948: President Harry S. TrumanTIME
1947: George MarshallTIME
1946: James F. Byrnes
1946: James F. ByrnesTIME
1945: President Harry S. Truman
1945: President Harry S. TrumanTIME
1944: Dwight D. Eisenhower
1944: Dwight D. EisenhowerTIME
1943: George Marshall
1943: George MarshallTIME
1942: Joseph Stalin
1942: Joseph StalinTIME
1941: President Franklin D. Roosevelt
1941: President Franklin D. RooseveltTIME
1940: Winston Churchill
1940: Winston ChurchillTIME
1939: Joseph Stalin
1939: Joseph StalinTIME
1938: Adolf Hitler
1938: Adolf HitlerTIME
1937: Chiang Kai-shek and Soong May-ling
1937: Chiang Kai-shek and Soong May-lingTIME
1936: Wallis Simpson
1936: Wallis SimpsonTIME
1935: Haile Selassie
1935: Haile SelassieTIME
1934: President Franklin D. Roosevelt
1934: President Franklin D. RooseveltTIME
1933: Hugh S. Johnson
1933: Hugh S. JohnsonTIME
1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt
1932: Franklin D. RooseveltTIME
1931: Pierre Laval
1931: Pierre LavalTIME
1930: Mahatma Gandhi
1930: Mahatma GandhiTIME
1929: Owen D. Young
1929: Owen D. YoungTIME
1928: Walter Chrysler
1928: Walter ChryslerTIME
TIME Man of the Year 1927: Charles Lindbergh
1927: Charles LindberghTIME

Is it true that the announcement is made before the cover goes to the printers?

Yes, this year the announcement will be made on the Today show and to TIME’s 6.5 million Twitter followers on the morning of Dec. 10, as the issue goes to press. It goes live on TIME.com immediately, and our plan is for readers to be able to download the tablet edition on the 10th as well.

Do you feel outside pressure to make a certain choice, especially with social networking and the Internet?

We invite it, because we do this online poll, which is extremely unscientific. Response to the Person of the Year issue tends to be very focused on whom we put on the cover, but the issue is also our take on the entire year in review. The poll is part of our effort to remind ourselves and readers: these were the things that happened this year and these were the people who made them happen or the people to whom they happened. Certain narratives start to present themselves just through that group of names, about business or technology or human rights or culture or politics. What’s nice about the poll is that we get an unregulated sense of who piques the public’s interest. And while we don’t make our selection based on the poll results, it’s always interesting to see where some of our preferred candidates end up.

People always seem surprised to see entertainers like Taylor Swift on the Person of the Year poll list. Can you talk about why pop stars are included?

TIME has always covered news in its broadest sense. Working on Person of the Year, I’ve spent a lot of time in the archives and I learned that for the first four decades of its life, TIME put a person on the cover every week. There were a handful of exceptions (a horse, a flag, the city of Paris), but otherwise every week you’d see person on the cover—that’s part of the magazine’s ongoing legacy. Those people are not always world leaders or presidents of the United States or CEOs. Sometimes they are Julia Child or Woody Allen or Charlie’s Angels. And some of those covers are the most enduring covers of TIME. I do think there are arguments to be made for cultural figures. They don’t impact the news in the same way a dictator would, but they certainly signal something about where the world is at a given time. If people remember 2014 as the year of Beyonce, I wouldn’t say that’s entirely wrong.

Do you have any Person of the Year choices you find inspiring or unusual?

I’ve become partial to You from 2006. It’s a great issue. It gets a lot of flak because of the Mylar cover, but if you go back and read that issue of TIME, it’s a very strong statement about what was happening with user-generated content. I also like the “25 and Under” issue from 1966, partly because it has a great composite illustration on the cover, which is hard to pull off, but also it was a clever move to identify what would later be known as the Baby Boomer generation at that moment.

Any hints for this year?


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