Why Steve Jobs isn’t Time’s Person of the Year

December 14, 2011

Time unveiled the magazine’s perennial Person of the Year on Wednesday, opting to go with “The Protester” as the influential synecdoche of the past 12 months instead of a single individual who made big news this year.

In a run-up to its big reveal, the magazine took a reader poll asking who the general public thought should be the person of the year and — perhaps unsurprising, given the outpouring of grief over his death — Steve Jobs was on the public’s short list.

Jobs, however, was not even a contender for the magazine’s cover.

Time managing editor Rick Stengel told the anchors of the “Today” show Wednesday that the award isn’t a “lifetime achievement award.”

Jobs had a somewhat rocky history with the magazine, as detailed in the authorized biography of the Apple co-founder released shortly after his death. Jobs believed that he was being profiled to be the Man of the Year in 1982, only to find when the magazine published that Time had run a harsh portrait of the then 27-year-old executive and chosen to honor the personal computer as “Machine of the Year” instead.

“They FedExed me the magazine, and I remember opening the package, thoroughly expecting to see my mug on the cover, and it was this computer sculpture thing.” Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson, who used to be a Time magazine journalist. “I thought, ‘Huh?’ And then I read the article, and it was so awful that I actually cried.”

Jobs is not overlooked in the latest issue, however, getting a (very touching) write-up in the magazine’s “Fond Farewells” section, penned by Pixar head John Lasseter.

“I thought of Steve almost as a brother, and he never ceased to amaze me,” Lasseter wrote. “He knew that his products and technology could improve people’s lives.”

Related stories:

Walter Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs’ biography shows Apple co-founder's genius, flaws

Original Apple contract fetches $1.6M at auction

Steve Jobs’s last words: ‘Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.’

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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