TIME’s Rick Stengel to Mr. Magazine™: That’s Why the TEA Party is NOT the Person of the Year. We Are Creators in Print and Curators Online and Other Words of Wisdom from TIME’s Managing EditorDecember 15, 2010
“In print we are creators and online we are curators,” that is the mantra Rick Stengel, managing editor of TIME believes in, and practices every day with his iconic brand TIME. In an exclusive interview with Mr. Magazine™ Mr. Stengel talks about his choice of Mark Zuckerberg as the Person of the Year; the reasons why the TEA Party was not chosen as the POY; the future of print and online; and the status of TIME as an iconic brand.
On whether TIME Person of the Year choices are getting softer and gentler, less controversial, after Sept. 11, 2001:
Last year we had Ben Bernanke, which a lot of people criticized, well they might have disagreed ideologically but I don’t think you could have a more serious newsy choice than the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Some people criticized it because it was dull. Obama was the year before that. Then as you know I did Vladimir Putin, which in some ways is probably the most controversial choice since the Ayatullah because he’s obviously not a good guy, he’s as authoritarian figure. So the answer is NO.
In Mark Zuckerberg’s particular case, what was clear is that Mark Zuckerberg in terms of the effect and the influence he is having across the globe, about to have six hundred million users on Facebook, is really historic in it’s reach and breath and I think something quite amazing is going on. I though a lot about Julian Assange, and as you know I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago, but in terms of the long-term in terms of greater effects, in terms of something that touches people’s lives everyday, Mark Zuckerberg seemed to me the clear choice.
There are a few reasons. First of all, our choice is an international choice. We have an international audience where we have readers all over the planet and so I’m always looking for something that is global in its influence. I’m not saying the TEA Party didn’t have some global influence, it really was an extraordinary year for the TEA Party. I’m biased in favor of choosing a person for the Person of the Year. We had gotten away from that. You know, there were a number of years in a row where it was a group, where it was Mr. and Mrs. Gates, and Bono, or the Whistle-Blowers, or the American soldier. I think people like to have a person to be the Person of the Year. Part of the problem for choosing the TEA Party was that it was really impossible to choose one person who is representative of the TEA Party. I think had we done that, no matter whom that person was, it wouldn’t necessarily have felt representative of what the TEA Party accomplished this past year. Another thing about the Tea Party, of course, is by design it doesn’t have a singular leader, it doesn’t have a centralized leadership and that makes it harder to choose a single person.
On the iconic status of TIME and its place in the media world today:
In this crazy media environment, great brands, iconic brands like TIME actually will thrive, provided you’re creating and continuing to create great content. One of the things we’ve done in the last few years is actually made the magazine newsier, more serious, more thoughtful about everything that is going on. That has made us even stronger in the marketplace and stronger in people’s loyalties. We’ve been growing in really every segment of our business. I also think that given this fractured, itemized media environment, people are looking for brands that they can trust and our trust meter continues to go up.
On being a creator and a curator of information:
We’re on every different platform there is and different platforms need different strategies and you want to do what is appropriate for each platform. We do more curation online than we do in print. To me the print product is also the place for original reporting and long-form journalism. Curation happens online, it happens on our iPad app. were we, for example, curate the best pictures of the week. I think you have to do what is appropriate to each medium and I also think, again, that one of the reasons people feel faithful to TIME is that we do a lot of original content and we do it with historical perspective and our actual expertise.
On the future, destruction and creativity
Well, even during the bad period, I always thought it’s an incredibly rich period for media. There are certain forms of media that it wasn’t good for. But, in terms of the amount of content that is being consumed, people are reading and watching and seeing as much news more than ever in the history of the media as they are now. I actually think it’s a great time in media. It’s just a difficult time for certain parts of old media. I’m optimistic and feel like it’s really a time of great creativity, you know destruction and creativity go together, but I see us moving ahead even more in a creative and fruitful direction.