Media Person of the Year

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2006 Media Person of the Year:
Stephen Colbert

A comedian is voted the year's
top figure in the media industry.

Stephen Colbert, the host of "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central, is the 2006 Media Person of the Year, according to the annual online poll held by I Want Media.

The readers of I Want Media nominated 10 candidates and sent thousands of hits to the week-long Internet poll. The winner last year was CNN newsman Anderson Cooper, who followed Jon Stewart, Colbert's partner in "fake news," in 2004.

The popularity of Colbert's spot-on, satirical cable-news pundit character already led him to be honored as of one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2006. The Comedy Central star sent shock waves through the news media early in the year when he keynoted the White House Correspondents' Association dinner and skewered President Bush to his face: "I believe in this president. Guys like us ... know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in 'reality.' And reality has a well-known liberal bias."



Colbert's routine "unplugged the Bush myth machine -- and left the clueless D.C. press corps gaping," wrote Michael Scherer of A clip of Colbert's speech instantly became a viral video hit on the Web. New York Times columnist Frank Rich later described Colbert's performance as the "defining moment" of the 2006 midterm elections.

In a comment submitted to I Want Media, Kate Brown of Washington Post Radio wrote that Colbert "speaks to the next generation of voters and the up-and-coming 20- and 30-somethings that are stealing the spotlight from the muckrakers of old and the nightly news anchors who once reigned supreme in American living rooms. It's the Comedy Central and YouTube progeny that now holds the reins of political discourse in our country."

Colbert solidified his position among media movers and shakers late in the year when he joined industry bigwigs in the Center for Communication roast for Tom Freston, the former CEO of MTV parent Viacom. Colbert congratulated Freston for making MTV a "global culture-crushing behemoth." But, he added: "What's awful in America is great when we do it to [other countries]. The more Taliban [members] imitate stunts on 'Jackass,' the better."

Following Colbert, the figures earning the most votes for 2006 Media Person of the Year were, in order: Rachael Ray, Chad Hurley, Dean Baquet, and Arianna Huffington.

The 10 candidates:

Dean Baquet. The former editor of the Los Angeles Times bravely brawled with owner Tribune over demands to lay off staffers, but lost. Baquet, one of the most prominent African-American journalists in the country, was forced out soon after former publisher Jeff Johnson also was asked to exit. The two execs had opposed budget cuts, insisting they would damage the paper's quality. Tribune is one of many media companies facing restructuring -- and possible dismantling -- as more audiences migrate to the Internet. Baquet says of his former paper's future: "I don't think anybody knows what's going to happen."

Stephen Colbert. Is the host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" the new Jon Stewart? Colbert, a former correspondent for "The Daily Show," may be a new rival in cultural influence to Stewart, the news-satire show's anchor (and 2004 Media Person of the Year). Colbert skewered President Bush to his face during an appearance at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. "Reality has a well-known liberal bias," he deadpanned. A clip of Colbert at the dinner became an instant hit on YouTube. Stewart and Colbert "faked it until they made it," muses Rolling Stone. "Now they may truly be the most trusted names in news."

Katie Couric. The former NBC "Today" show co-host became the first woman to anchor a network evening newscast. But will she be the last? Couric's debut on the "CBS Evening News" won huge ratings, but the show quickly dropped to third place behind NBC and ABC. Couric also became one of many news anchors to launch a blog. In one post she opined that the Internet may kill off newspapers: "Soon you may be reading [their] obituary ... online." Later, during a public appearance, she contemplated the impact of new media on her own industry: "Obviously, [with] the fragmentation of the media, the days of sitting around the dinner table and watching Walter Cronkite don't exist anymore."

Tom Freston. The ousted CEO of MTV parent Viacom was met by some 2,500 "screaming and chanting" employees in the company's corridors when he exited the building for the last time. Despite his beloved status, as well as his reputed sharp business acumen, Freston committed a big blunder in the eyes of Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone: He lost the bidding war for the red-hot online social network MySpace to rival News Corp. Many top big-media Internet execs were replaced in 2006, including Jonathan Miller, CEO of Time Warner's AOL. The lesson may be that in today's tumultuous media world, no one's job is safe.

Arianna Huffington. The liberal blog queen, backed by her coterie of powerful contributors on The Huffington Post, emerged as a sort of counterweight on the Internet to the conservative voice of Drudge Report. According to New York magazine, Huffington is a "serial charmer" and the "queen of connectedness" -- a "human blog." Huffington, for her part, is a tireless advocate of blogging. Says Huffington: "The mainstream media are suffering from attention-deficit disorder, and we in the blogosphere are suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. And that is a good thing."

Chad Hurley. The CEO of YouTube was treated like a "new-media demigod" when he appeared at the Allen & Co. media-titan retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho, this summer, says the New York Post. Hurley was "sucked up to by virtually every big-name exec in media." In October, after months of rumors and speculation, Hurley and co-founder Steve Chen's video-sharing phenom was bought for $1.65 billion by Google. "This year something happened," says Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "Video became a fundamental data type on the Internet." Some media experts see online video as a potential challenger to traditional television.

Rupert Murdoch. The king of News Corp. is already ranked at No. 1 on Vanity Fair's 2006 list of the New Establishment. After decades as a newspaper and broadcast baron, the "wily" Murdoch is reinventing himself as an Internet mogul, says Fortune. Last year's $580 million acquisition of MySpace is beginning to reshape his entire media company. It cost Viacom's Tom Freston his job and "humiliated" rival Sumner Redstone. Despite the "ill-considered" O.J. Simpson book-television project, Murdoch "has remarkable grasp," says fellow mogul Barry Diller. Murdoch is "the only one who has that kind of grasp."

Rachael Ray. The cooking/lifestyle personality appears to be the new Oprah (or Martha, the 2002 Media Person of the Year). Ray has become a hit cookbook author, syndicated television show host, and even has her own online social network of sorts, Club RR. Her namesake magazine was named Launch of the Year by both Advertising Age and Media Industry Newsletter. No matter her media platform, the "irrepressible" Ray encourages interactivity. "All of our content is based on accessibility," she says. The "next" Rachael Ray may be coming soon: Atoosa Rubenstein is stepping down as editor of Seventeen magazine with the goal of becoming a multiplatform star for teen audiences.

Eric Schmidt. The CEO of Google is laying the groundwork for guiding the search giant's lucrative advertising business beyond the Web and into traditional media, such as video, newspapers and radio. All the while, the ever-growing tech company continues to insist that it's a "facilitator," not a threat, to the media industry. Still, "old media" execs wonder if Google will turn out to be a Trojan horse, as they team up for more and more partnerships. Schmidt extolled the potential of the Internet in an essay in The Economist: "The past few years have taught us that business models based on controlling consumers or content don't work. Betting against the Net is foolish."

Jeff Zucker. The high-profile chief of NBC is seen as the heir apparent to succeed Bob Wright, the longtime CEO of NBC Universal. But with the network's financial prospects in question, insiders are said to be raising questions about Zucker's suitability. To meet the growing challenges from the Internet and other new digital media, NBC Universal announced plans to cut 700 jobs and streamline its news operations in a dramatic initiative dubbed "NBCU 2.0." Says Zucker: "The industry is undergoing tremendous change ... all we're trying to do is get in front of it." His future, and the network's, may depend on it.


  • "Chad Hurley, for taking "America's Funniest Home Videos" to an unexpected new level. YouTube emerged out of nowhere in 2006 to scare the bejesus out of traditional media by chipping away their audiences while largely getting away with stepping on their copyrights. It's the preeminent (or, at least, the latest) example of new media profiting while potentially wrecking havoc on old media. Several major media companies are said to be considering launching a joint video Web site to compete with the new Google acquisition. Plus, a number of mainstream media outlets are starting to post their own Web tools for video uploading, in an effort to capitalize on the clip-sharing craze and attract a new crop of online video advertisers. Internet video took off this year -- and could end up transforming how people watch television in the future. As BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis observed: 'The line between TV and Internet TV is about to disappear.' No one personified that phenomenon better in 2006 than the face of YouTube, CEO Hurley."

    Patrick Phillips, I Want Media

  • "A very strong case could be made for Stephen Colbert, for his brilliant use of the Internet, and for Chad Hurley, for co-founding video-sharing phenomenon YouTube. However, my vote would go to the vast army of *regular people* who are now becoming their own media stars online, who have now finally taken control of their media experience through DVRs and time-shifted podcasts, and who are spending more time in smaller communities of interest along the Long Tail rather than with mass media. These people are making all your candidates for Media Person of the Year less relevant each year. They are the future of media."

    Mark Glaser, MediaShift @

  • "When I heard Time magazine was considering the collective 'You' as Person of the Year, I turned purple with jealousy. Clearly, that should have been Ad Age's choice of Marketer of the Year (nothing against our actual choice, Toyota), and clearly that should be I Want Media's Media Person of the Year. 2006 was the year of consumer empowerment, which expressed itself in everything from the rise of user-generated content to the growing power of DVRs, portable music players, satellite radio and more. There has been a transfer of power, from the creators and distributors of content to the consumers of it, and it has turned the media world upside down. Nothing else comes close."

    Scott Donaton, Advertising Age

  • "Dean Baquet, in hopes that 2007 will see another 100 Baquets. Despite all the ink and electrons spilled over blogging and Katie Couric, plain old unglamorous newspapers remain the day-in, day-out frontline of reporting in this country. They're usually the basis of the news food chain, with other media then putting their icing (or links) on top. The newspaper industry -- at least a chunk of it -- can remake itself for the economic and technologic realities of this century. But when owners demand the same kind of profits they get from, say, assembling sewing machines in Bangladesh -- or decide that the best way to save the ship is to throw the crew overboard -- they may damage the institution beyond repair before it has time for reinvention. That would be an enormous loss. Journalists need to stand up and say so, clearly and often. And hope, of course, that someone out there is listening."

    Michael Rogers, New York Times

  • "I say it is Chad Hurley, who has given us a whole new world of online entertainment. While we are a culture of celebrity worship, a whole new breed of stars has surfaced online. A year ago, I would never have predicted that an average Joe from Ohio could make it on the 'Today' show because his recreation of the most popular dance moves in 40 years was a YouTube phenomenon. How long before the verb 'to YouTube,' like 'to Google' will make it into Webster's dictionary?"

    Bonnie Fuller, American Media, (2003 Media Person of the Year)

  • "I vote for Dean Baquet, who will go down in history as the poster boy for all the stupid moronic things some major media companies are doing. He was courageous, stood up for his principles, and let's not forget he was winning more Pulitzers that the New York Times crowd in recent years -- so he had the substance to back up his words."

    Keith Kelly, New York Post

  • "It's got to be a tie between Stephen Colbert and Chad Hurley. Both have transformed the way the American public view polticians and digest inside-the-Beltway game-playing. They both speak to the next generation of voters and the up-and-coming 20- and 30-somethings that are stealing the spotlight from the muckrakers of old and the nightly news anchors who once reigned supreme in American living rooms. And despite the fact that the geezers may drool in their cups over Katie, it's the Comedy Central and YouTube progeny that now hold the reins of political discourse in our country."

    Kate Brown, Washington Post Radio

  • "Why is Katie Couric on the list representing the evening news genre, but not Brian Williams or Charles Gibson -- since both have higher ratings? While there has been a lot of media buzz about Katie, there is clearly nothing that justifies a nod for 2006 (even with the blogging). Maybe in 2007, but definitely not in 2006. If Katie *has* to be on a 'media' list for 2006, why not put her up against Rachael Ray (not that we have anything against Rachael) in a perky/peppy category, thus clearing out two spots on the list?

    Brian Groce, Trolley Dodgers Podcast

  • "I'd choose Lou Dobbs and Stephen Colbert, the twin avatars of Cable News 3.0: both lacking all doubt concerning their versions of the truth, both contemptuous of the old broadcast-news boundaries between fact and opinion, both self-proclaimed defenders of regular Americans against an onslought by the elites, both glowing with self-regard, one a parody and one not."

    Kurt Andersen, Studio 360, New York Magazine

  • "Notably absent is Keith Olbermann, who has become a nightly must-see, particularly given his courageous, incisive and instructive special commentaries at the end of the program."

    Barbara Stewart, Sesame Workshop

  • "Sascha Baron Cohen should be Media Person of the Year. 'Borat' -- both its content and success -- revealed more about America today than any other single work of journalism. There is even an allegory for the Bush presidency in the scene at the mansion dinner party. Borat (Bush) dines with Americans, insults them, hands the hostess a bag of his feces. She takes pity on him as a simpleton, and he is only kicked out (Lord willing) when his prostitute shows up."

    Eric Roston,

  • "It's got to be Katie Couric -- no one got more coverage, or more scrutiny."

    Andrew Torgan, CNN

  • "Shepard Smith from Fox News definately should win this award. Can't believe he's not even nominated but Rachael Ray is (???). Shepard Smith is not just a news anchor. He goes where the story is to report the truth. From Katrina to Israel and many stories in between, news junkies can rely on him to tell the facts."

    Jeri Wade

  • "My pick is Arianna Huffington, queen of the blogosphere."

    Tina Brown

  • "Lou Dobbs of CNN would be my choice as the most important media figure of the year. Not because I believe Dobbs is the most powerful person in the media. He can't shine Rupert Murdoch's shoes. But Dobbs represents a sea change that is sweeping over journalism. Dobbs anchors a nightly program on which he freely expresses opinion. In fact, for him CNN head Jim Walton decided to relax the networks restrictions against offering opinion in news shows. CNN, which for years billed itself as an electronic New York Times -- 'The Most Trusted Name in News,' their billboards read -- decided to ape a formula that worked for Bill O'Reilly and other Fox News anchors. And as Dobbs' ratings rose -- or those of Keith Olbermann at MSNBC -- the conviction grew that success in the relatively small cable news universe depended on announcing opinions, displaying an attitude, an edge.

    "Last week I bumped into a senior cable news executive at a holiday party and he sang the virtues of opinioned journalism. 'Everyone has an agenda,' he told me. 'All reporters are biased. Why not be open about it, transparent? We shouldn't pretend. The audience is looking for honest opinions, for opinions they can relate to.' The problem with this mindset, which is echoed at Fox and CNN and talk radio and on many blogs, is that it promotes cynicism, encouraging viewers or readers or listeners to believe there are no pristine facts, just opinion. So search out the facts you agree with. Conservative facts. Liberal facts. But not common facts. Lou Dobbs is one smart dude. He does an hour newscast that often contains more serious news than one finds on ABC, CBS or NBC. But as the wall between news and opinion is lowered, the impact on journalism spreads. And the impact on the public will be even greater. A democracy assumes that citizens share a faith in the good intentions of journalists (or elected officials), and can reach compromises because they can agree on common facts. Without that faith, those facts, we fracture."

    Ken Auletta, The New Yorker

  • "Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Reason: Google and its recent purchase of YouTube promise to reshape the media landscape in ways we can't even begin to fathom. The recent agreements with the NHL, TV networks and the like indicate a massive reshaping of the way traditional media is delivered to the consumer is on the horizon. Within 10 years, it may be that no one watches television on a TV anymore."

    Steven Chappell

  • "Perez Hilton. In just 18 months an unemployed actor parlays an alias, HTML, salacious gossip and Photoshop skills into a Web site read by every 26-year-old-female office-worker in America. Sixty million page impressions a month have put Perez on par with the biggest online commercial purveyors of gossip."

    Henry Copeland, Blogads

  • "Anderson Cooper. He is intelligent, humorous, and certainly easy to look at, again and again and again. I believe that presenting the truth is an important part of him and his program. His stories are compelling and they shine a light on those that are not always highly rated but need to be told. He is also a courageous young man, as risks do not seem to get in the way of his reporting."

    Judy Stage

  • "How about Richard Johnson? His latest challenger for gossip supremacy, Lloyd Grove, was vanquished with a whimper after three years of getting beat by Page Six. The Post finally surpassed the Daily News in circulation nearly 30 years after Rupert Murdoch came to town. And Page Six weathered the Jared Paul Stern scandal, despite the best efforts of the Daily News to destroy the column."

    Richard Johnson, New York Post

  • Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the most trusted names in news, telling the truth via comedy. They'll do the kind of basic investigative reporting that we see little of these days, for example, digging up video that shows a politicians lying. Oscar Wilde said: 'If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you.' "

    Craig Newmark, Craigslist

  • "All of the newspersons who put their lives on the line covering the war in Iraq."

    Isabel Bermudez

  • "I nominate Tom Cruise, who went from being a 'sofa jerk' on Oprah and being fired by Sumner Redstone (Paramount) to 'co-buying' United Artists with Paula Wagner ... and 'co-producing' a daughter, a marriage, and probably the best-selling magazine covers of the year (pertaining to both). No 'Mission Impossible' was scripted better."

    Steven Cohn, Media Industry Newsletter

  • "Charles Gibson. Despite his age, he was the natural choice of viewers when Peter Jennings was still living. Also, to get canned by ABC and then come back to 'GMA' the second time around and almost put them back to No. 1 is also to his credit. His leadership with people he works with makes him second to none."

    Elisha L. Smith

  • "Steve Jobs, for revolutionizing television distribution. Before the iTunes video store started selling full episodes of shows nobody was doing it ... now everyone is. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. I don't really think they should win this year, but they should get a nomination. Their mission statement is simple, 'to organize all the world's information,' and now have the largest share of online video. Stephen Colbert ... ya know, just because."

    Nick Geidner, Ball State University

  • "Om Malik. Blogs are the LEDs of the journalistic firmament. They consume very little energy and yet have the potential to shed a great deal of light. No one has understood this more acutely than Malik, who's using his own modest tech site, GigaOm, to spawn a host of blogs that cost little to maintain and yield a decent revenue stream -- and a great deal of intelligence. Big Media will endure, but Little Media is starting to thrive, thanks to Om."

    Josh Quittner, Business 2.0

  • "Star Jones Reynolds is the Media Person of the Year. She has had quite a life in the media this year and has handled it all with nothing but grace and class. She deserves to be recognized."

    Cassie McConnell

  • "Judson Laipply. He is a motivational speaker from Ohio, and you have seen him dance."

    Bob Garfield, On the Media, Advertising Age

  • "Keith Olbermann is the Media Person of the Year. His poignant commentaries and fearless 'special comments' have put many important issues in front of otherwise uninformed viewers. In my opinion, he is fast becoming the Walter Cronkite of our day. He is, no doubt, worthy of the award. It is a travesty that he has been left off of the Top 10 finalists."

    Bill Parker

  • "This is probably late -- and redundant -- but I would nominate Jon Stewart. I suppose others will say that, since earning the title in 2004, he's been eclipsed by Stephen Colbert (who some find braver and more innovative, partly due to his much-touted appearance at the Washington Correspondent's Dinner) or Keith Olbermann (who I also admire, but frankly, there's a pomposity to his style that reminds me too much of Ted Knight on 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show').

    "I'm nominating Stewart for promises kept and diligence maintained through all the hoopla thrown his way and all the recent cast changes at "The Daily Show" -- and for remaining the level-headed everyanchor who's still as befuddled by our daily news as he is skilled at cutting through the chaff and making us laugh. And who retains an open mind on the subject of which political 'side' is best."

    Pat Grandjean, Connecticut Magazine

  • "Rachael Ray. She's fresh, new and great to listen to, great to watch. She attracts the 18-to-45 age group, she isn't a felon like Martha, and she has great morals. Couldn't be a better pick."

    David Foster

  • "Patrick J. Fitzgerald, federal prosecutor. With his continued effort to pursue the contents of reporter's notebooks and the people holding them, he has altered the journalistic landscape in ways that will reverberate for years to come."

    David Carr, New York Times



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