Time managing editor Rick Stengel overruled readers in picking Mark Zuckerberg for Time’s 2010 Person of the Year, but as he pointed out, the process is “not a small ‘d’ democracy.”
Digital whistleblower and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was Time’s readers’ choice to be the magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year with 382,206 votes, but Stengel said he considered the long-term impact of the Harvard-dropout-turned-social-network-mogul—not just the past year’s.
“When I make the choice, I think of [what] has actually affected people’s lives the most [in] the past year,” he said. “Five years from now, who’s going to look smart? Julian Assange has been in the news a lot lately. I think five years from now, he’ll been an asterisk. If you really wanted to, [you would] make [leaker] Bradley Manning. Julian Assange was the wine bottle, and Bradley Manning supplied the wine. In the grand scheme of things, it will be a footnote to history.”
Zuckerberg, meanwhile, created a new system of connecting people that “is the connective tissue for nearly a tenth of the planet,” Stengel said. “Facebook is now the third-largest country on Earth and surely has more information about its citizens than any government does.”
In addition to being the second-youngest Person of the Year in Time’s history (after Charles Lindbergh, 25, 1927’s Man of the Year), Zuckerberg, 26, is the first businessperson to be named Person of the Year under Stengel, who pointed out that businesspeople were popular picks back in the ’30s and ’40s.
Returning to the people’s choice, Assange wasn’t entirely out of the running; he was third on Time’s list. But Stengel said while he is influenced by what readers think, their votes are somewhat self-selected.
“I’m now venting little bit, but let’s look back. You know who won our poll for Person of the Century? [Turkish Republic founder] Atatürk. Atatürk is not the person of the century,” he said, adding that for some reason, Turks seem to vote in disproportionate numbers.