Choosing the Person of the Year: TIME Editor Jim Kelly

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Charles Lindbergh: TIME's first Man of the Year

AOLiveMC20: Everyone, welcome Jim Kelly, managing editor of TIME magazine. Jim is joining us tonight to talk about TIME's pick for Person of the Year.

Jim Kelly: I am happy to be here.

AOLiveMC20: OK, Jim. Here is our first question tonight:

Question: How could TIME even consider bin Laden for Man of the Year? I'm a TIME subscriber and could not believe they would consider someone of his caliber.

Jim Kelly: Well, the classic definition of TIME's Person of the Year is the person who most affected the events of the year, for better or for worse. I think what has happened over the years is that the Man of the Year title, Person of the Year title, has become non-honorific. It was never meant to be solely that.

Question: There have been some unpopular picks over the years — Adolf Hitler, Ayatollah Khomeini, to name just a couple. What has been the reaction from the public about these picks?

Jim Kelly: Well, Hitler was picked in 1938, before it became so clear to the world — before all his crimes became known to the world. When Hitler made Man of the Year, the illustration was of him playing the Organ of Death with skeletons all over it. It was not meant to be an honor to Hitler. The reaction to it was surprisingly mute. But then again, I think it was because it was 1938. The selection of Khomeini was controversial. And a few hundred people did cancel their subscription.

AOLiveMC20: AOL member Stefandhar wants to know why you didn't pick President Bush:

Question: Why wasn't President Bush Man of the Year? He is a great man and an even greater leader.

Jim Kelly: We haven't picked anyone yet. We picked President Bush last year. He was the Person of the Year last year. We haven't picked anyone yet. It comes out on Monday.

AOLiveMC20: I'm sorry, thank you for the important information!

Question: Who decides who the Person of the Year is?

Jim Kelly: Well, it is a democracy up until the final week, when the managing editor gets to decide. What I do is get nominations from all correspondents. I talk to all editors; I read the course of all the mail that comes in. We think about this from about Thanksgiving to now. But this year we started a little earlier. We started earlier this year because we knew it would contain something about Sept. 11.

Question: How many times has a woman been Person of the Year, and who were the women chosen?

Jim Kelly: Well, many women have been Person of the Year. Wallace Warfield-Simpson, who married the King of England; Queen Elizabeth has been Woman of the Year; Madame Chaing Kai-Shek and Cori Aquino.

AOLiveMC20: A member wonders about something besides the Person of the Year:

Question: What do you feel the biggest news story was this year before Sept. 11?

Jim Kelly: I think it was Bush's decision to allow limited stem-cell research.

Question: What are today's latest developments in the war and the search for bin Laden?

Jim Kelly: Well, I think it is going to be days before we know exactly what is up with bin Laden. For all we know, he is, in fact, dead. But I think the news in the next few days will be trying to figure out if he is dead or alive or in Pakistan.

AOLiveMC20: Along the lines of attacks, AOL member VBallChck2189 wants to know:

Question: Do you think we should be expecting any more tragedies throughout the year?

Jim Kelly: Good question. I wish I knew the answer.

AOLiveMC20: So does our member! :)

Question: Has the Person of the Year been chosen yet, even though it's not announced?

Jim Kelly: The answer, believe it or not, is no. We have not made the final, final decision.

AOLiveMC20: Tata41974 asks:

Question: What is the most likely country the Bush administration will go after next?

Jim Kelly: Well, certainly the common suggestion is Iraq, but I would not be surprised if it turns out to be Somalia.

AOLiveMC20: Member MapletonKiwi wants to know:

Question: How close do you think we are to finding bin Laden?

Jim Kelly: I think it is impossible to say. I think they could find him tomorrow, or they could find him in two or three months. If he is dead and buried in a cave, it could be months, which could make it a real problem searching through those mountains.

Question: Have you seen 'Lord of the Rings'? And do you think it lives up to all the hype? Will it be another 'Star Wars' phenomenon?

Jim Kelly: I have not yet seen 'Lord of the Rings,' because I have been too busy putting out a magazine. I mean, I haven't even seen my family, let alone a movie, for several weeks.

Question: If the attacks hadn't happened, who do you think would've been Person of the Year?

Jim Kelly: That is a very good question. It might have been the scientist who led the stem-cell research. It might have been the president of Mexico. It might have been Alan Greenspan. And I am sure there are others we would have considered.

AOLiveMC20: You mentioned before that you have been putting a lot of time into the magazine lately. Besides picking Person of the Year, what is involved in editing the magazine?

Jim Kelly: That could be a very long answer...

AOLiveMC20: Well, what are your main tasks?

Jim Kelly: ...but it basically involves trying to figure out what our readers will need the following week. And that means we have to look backwards; we have to look forward. We want to present the best possible picture of what is happening in 40 pages a week. A lot of crunching goes on. I pick out how much energy to put into covering the stories we do: Should it be three reporters? Should it be one reporter? Do we spend a day on the story? Do we spend three weeks on the story? Setting objectives is my main task.

AOLiveMC20: A member wonders what you think about the effect on the airline industry:

Question: Do you think the airline industry is going to bounce back?

Jim Kelly: Yes, I do think it will bounce back.

Question: Does the Person of the Year issue sell a lot more than regular issues? How many more copies do you have to print?

Jim Kelly: We don't print that many more, but it does sell very well. Before September 11, George Bush, our Person of the Year, was our second best seller. Dale Earnhardt was our best seller before the September tragedy.

AOLiveMC20: Member Ausssiesunsets asks:

Question: Has advertising dropped off since the attack on the 11th?

Jim Kelly: Yes, it has. But it is beginning to come back.

Question: When you select the Person of the Year, do you notify them ahead of time? If you can find them, that is.

Jim Kelly: (chuckling) Yes, we normally do.

Question: Is Mr. Blair in the running for Man of the Year?

Jim Kelly: Prime Minister Blair is not a bad choice, so the answer is yes.

AOLiveMC20: A member wonders, when considering candidates for the Person of the Year...

Question: What is your criteria for picking the Person of the Year?

Jim Kelly: Well narrowly put, it is the person who most affected events. But we tend to take a longer-range view of who should be the Person of the Year. So one year we chose an AIDS researcher; another year we chose Andy Grove, the head of Intel. And those two folks were not the biggest newsmakers of the year, but we thought their impact would be something people would talk about 10 or 20 years from now.

Question: What do you think will happen in Afghanistan over the next few years once the fighting stops?

Jim Kelly: I think that country has a very, very long road to recovery.

Question: What do you think will happen with the American who was fighting with the Taliban?

Jim Kelly: I think he will undergo a court proceeding.

Question: Has an entertainer ever been a Person of the Year? Or has it always been someone political?

Jim Kelly: Well, it always hasn't been political. We have done businessmen, we have done scientists and even royalty. But I don't think someone in show business has ever been Person of the Year — unless they were in politics.

AOLiveMC20: We have time for one final question tonight, Jim. Seeing that you are very busy right now, Jim, a member wonders:

Question: So do you get a vacation after the Person of the Year issue? Do you know what the next big story will be in TIME after that?

Jim Kelly: We very much hope the next big story has nothing to do with Osama bin Laden! And I think I will take a few days off after Christmas. And happy holidays to everyone!

AOLiveMC20: Thank you for joining us tonight, Mr. Kelly. I am sure we have all enjoyed your time with us tonight. We, of course, also look forward to Monday, when we’ll all discover the identity of the Person of the Year!