Magazines unveiling gimmick of the year

Newsmakers collect the year-end honor

December 27, 2004|By Heidi Stevens | Heidi Stevens,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The carb-hating, Britney-marrying, athlete-misbehaving, politically polarizing journey that was 2004 is drawing to a close. And like all weary travelers at the end of a long, strange trip, we've got one thing in mind:

Let's look at the pictures.

Magazines are always happy to oblige us, releasing end-of-the-year issues in December that wrap up the year's best offerings in entertainment, travel, investing, dining and so on. But the lists that really get people talking are the ones that focus on people.

Time magazine's annual and much-hyped Person of the Year issue hits newsstands today and President George W. Bush again holds the title - beating out Michael Moore, Mel Gibson and even Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove. Entertainment Weekly chose rising Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang (House of Flying Daggers) as its annual Entertainer of the Year last week. People magazine weighed in with its annual Sexiest Man Alive issue a few weeks back.

"It's a great marketing gimmick," says magazine expert Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi. "People in this country love collectibles. They think at some stage it's going to be worth something. So people not only buy them, but keep them."

Sure, stowing away Time's picks from the past few decades is conceivable. But what about other magazines? Are people really treating Soap Star Hairstyle's 10 Best-Styled Women of 2004 as a collectors' item? What about Guitar World's Breakthrough Artist of the Year?

"They're selling to people who are closely related to the topic," Husni says. "If Time selects the person of the year I think they should pick, I'm more likely to buy that magazine.

"Is any self-respecting New York Yankees fan going to buy the Red Sox Sports Illustrated?" he continues, referring to the recent issue honoring the Boston Red Sox as Sportsmen of the Year. "It's the same with the Women of the Year at Glamour. Those issues play the role of aspiring rather than inspiring. People want to be that person, be that team."

Which gets at a fundamental difference between Time's pick and the slew of other magazines' year-end picks. Being named Person of the Year by Time isn't necessarily an honor as much as an acknowledgment that you've been in the news a lot. Adolf Hitler was the magazine's pick in 1938. But "of-the-year" honors from most other magazines are truly that: honors.

"We try to cover the year in news in some regard," says Mark Healy, articles editor at GQ, whose December issue honors 27 Men of the Year, as well as five Women of the Year. "But we also want to cover the movies that excited us, the people and records and athletic achievements that were notable. We're honoring the people who really distinguished themselves in areas we consider our domain."

GQ started its Men of the Year issue in 1996. Their selections this year include actors Jude Law and Tom Cruise, U.S. Sen.-elect Barack Obama and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

Glamour's December Women of the Year issue (the magazine's 15th annual) honors a mix of stars and lesser-known women.

"It's always been our tradition to not just focus on celebrities, but to really look at women in all areas of achievement: sports, business, philanthropy, grassroots activism," says Glamour deputy editor Alison Brower. "It's about celebrating totally inspiring, unique heroes who our readers can relate to, but also really aspire to emulate."

Glamour's picks include singer Alicia Keys, journalist Helen Thomas, citizen activist Alice Coles and The Jersey Girls, four women who campaigned for a 9/11 Commission after losing husbands in the terrorist attacks.

Some faces appear on multiple magazines' lists: Kanye West is a GQ man of the year and an artist of the year in URB and Teen People. Kate Winslet is a woman of the year in Glamour and GQ. Usher is one of YM's Hottest Guys on the Planet this year, and also an artist of the year, according to Teen People.

In addition to his GQ honors, Obama is one of Vanity's Fair's People Who Made 2004 the Year That It Was.

"People want to reflect," says Brower. "They also want to be diverted. It's a stressful time of year.

"It's a nice time to look back and give them until January before you hit them with the new, big fitness plan."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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