PEOPLE has always believed that making connections is important to journalism and to human beings—not only the pure, intellectual connections that unlock truths, but also the kind that take place when we throw open windows on other lives, the better to know who we are. The staff of this magazine has always had a special knack for linking people this way, but no year has demonstrated that as strikingly as this one. Often, PEOPLE puts you in closer touch with celebrities you already know a lot about. This year, for example, the editors hosted the first home visit with Cybill Shepherd’s new twins, Ariel and Zack—and when Michael Jackson wanted to take off his glove and touch someone, he handwrote a note to our 24½ million readers.
More often, though, PEOPLE introduces you to “ordinary” human beings you’ve never heard of before. In April, the magazine devoted an entire issue to the people of the Soviet Union—a trapper, a miner in Siberia, an American veteran living in Irkutsk—who turned out to be surprisingly familiar folk in a strange land. In March, PEOPLE looked homeward and found “Angels”—unsung heroes who feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and care for the sick. In August, 40 correspondents and 22 photographers chronicled 24 hours in the human tragedy of AIDS, starting with 15-year-old hemophiliac Ryan White, who prays with his mother at bedtime, “Thank you, dear Lord, for another day.” That piece drew the most favorable letter response to any article PEOPLE has ever run.
Some journalists give such stories the clumsy label “human interest” (though PEOPLE’S editors point out that they do pig, toad and elephant interest stories too). The phrase took on special meaning last October in Midland, Texas, when 18-month-old Jessica McClure fell down an abandoned well shaft. For 58 hours, many of the world’s cares seemed to fade in importance as we waited anxiously on the fate of one little girl. Jessica may be the best-loved cover girl PEOPLE has ever had, and when she was rescued, a policeman recalled in these pages, “the streets were lined with people and they were all cheering and the church bells were all ringing.”
In a different city, two months later, the streets were again thronged with cheering people when Mikhail Gorbachev shook hands with Ronald Reagan—a handshake preserved close up in these pages last week. And from far away, perhaps years in the future, you could almost hear the church bells ringing as we celebrated the survival of other children—our own. It was a fine reminder that there is no more fundamental connection than a handshake, and during this season especially, all of us hope that that simple connection will endure.