Person of the Year

Individuals can make a difference to history, and Russia's Vladimir Putin, our choice for 2007, proves the point

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People tend to think that choosing the Person of the Year is a scientific process. It's not; it's a subjective one. There's no Person of the Year measuring stick or algorithm. In the fall, I ask our writers, editors and correspondents to send in suggestions. We have meetings. I talk to wise men and women--some of them previous Persons of the Year. But in the end, it has to be someone or something that feels right, something that's a little unexpected, someone our readers will be eager to know more about.

After selecting You and the rise of user-generated content last year, I was keen to select a person this year. I think part of the excitement of POY (as we call it internally)--and part of the challenge--is picking one individual who fits the description of the person who has most profoundly influenced the world during the past year, for better or for worse. I believe individuals can and do change the course of history, but it's often hard to tease out one person's vision and influence from the hurly-burly of events.

Vladimir Putin made that task easier. With an iron will--and at significant cost to the principles that free nations prize--Putin has brought Russia back as a world power. It was his year.

I made up my mind about President Putin a few months ago, but it was only at the last minute that he sat down for an interview. So on a snowy Moscow day, our team left the city for the drive to Putin's presidential dacha. Despite the fact that President Putin knew he was potentially the Person of the Year, he made little effort to be agreeable. Charm is not part of his arsenal. I've spent a lot of time around politicians, but he's the first who didn't seem to care whether we liked him or not.

We had an unparalleled team in Russia. The fascinating cover story on Putin was written by deputy managing editor Adi Ignatius. Adi served as the Wall Street Journal's Moscow bureau chief in the early 1990s and was eager to get back to Russia. Moscow correspondent Yuri Zarakhovich knows all the right questions and the people who can answer them. Senior editor Nathan Thornburgh, who wrote the beautiful story retracing a famous journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg, has followed Russia since his first visit as a 15-year-old exchange student. Yuri Kozyrev, who took the superb pictures for Nathan's piece, is a Russian national who has distinguished himself with his coverage of Iraq since 2002.

If Putin eschews charm, Platon, the great English portrait photographer, exudes it. Putin, we were told, does not pose for portraits. He did for Platon, who was able to tease out of the President a fact that several journalists could not. Putin's favorite Beatles song? Yesterday.

Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR