Afflicting a Comfortable Journalist / How are year-end magazine awards decided?

Afflicting a Comfortable Journalist
“Th newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward,” said Mr. Dooley, a fictional Chicago Irishman channeled by writer Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) who expounded on politics and society from the stool of his neighborhood pub. Yep, newspapers used to do things like that, and the column was so big that even President Theodore Roosevelt, a frequent target, was a reader. The Strange New Respect of the establishment for the opinions expressed in The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Onion are not unprecedented.

“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” has stuck with us, and it came to mind when I read Matt Taibbi’s hilarious eviscerations of well-off New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman: reviews of a few columns in 2003, The World of Flat (2005), and Hot, Flat, and Crowded (2009). You’ll be much more careful about using metaphors after seeing the way Mr. Friedman employs them.

How are year-end magazine awards decided?
So, the three big individual honors from American magazines are in. Time has named Mark Zuckerberg the Man of the Year. Drew Brees is Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsman of the Year. Last but not least, Ryan Reynolds is the Sexiest Man Alive.

I used to take the Time and Sports Illustrated awards really seriously. If Person of the Year were really about deciding who most affected the news for good or for ill, wouldn’t they have picked Osama bin Laden at some point in Bush’s first term or The Suicide Bomber in the second? Why have seven of the last eight Sportsmen of the Year been members of the three major professional sports leagues in the United States? You can peruse the archives of Time and SI and make your own judgments. Time saying “You” were the Person of the Year in ’06, when America had about five hundred times more self-esteem than it does now, was iluminado por el Espíritu Santo: that wasn’t what they meant to commemorate, but that period feels like a high-water mark now. Years from now, I’ll still be trying to find Roger Federer’s name: winning 3 out of 4 majors in multiple years wasn’t enough to get the most successful tennis player ever some recognition. He was born on the wrong continent and played the wrong sport.

This year, I’m at peace about it. Mark Zuckerberg’s and Drew Brees’s cover photos gave me the same feeling of mild surprise that Ryan Reynolds’s did. I’ve realized that deep down, Time and SI are just like People. As universal as the award criteria are, the point is to pick the person who will sell the most magazines. Primarily, that means deciding who the target audience would be interested in reading about.

Presidential election years are easy for Time – the American public comes out in droves and tells everyone exactly who they like – but the rest of the time, it’s not so easy. Newsies would have picked Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who just proved that Privacy Is Dead, but I, for one, wouldn’t want to open that magazine on a subway and subject the ladies sharing my car to a leer from that rapscallion. Facebook is a social network, not a magician; it’s grown steadily for six years, and this year it actually lost some buzz (to Twitter); it still means nothing to 90% of the world. But this was the year that Time‘s target audience became interested in it. This was the year it became a major motion picture and a hot topic in polite society. Time did well for itself. As for Drew Brees, he’s inspirational, friendly, and familiar, and Christmas and football have put us all in the mood to read about him again. So that would be a solid choice no matter what any other athlete in the world accomplished this year. Mark, Drew, and Ryan, congratulations. If you all go out for beers some time next week, I’d be happy to join you.

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One Comment on “Afflicting a Comfortable Journalist / How are year-end magazine awards decided?”

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