After more than four years of reporting and writing here at Society Matters — about the future of journalism, and about the past, present, and future of the National Geographic Society — this post will be my last one. Here’s why…
On November 11, 2013 — one day after I published a post called “Why did Chris Johns kill the Egypt story?” — Terry Adamson, Chief Legal Officer at the National Geographic Society, sent me a letter (via email and next-day courier), with cc’s to John Fahey, Chairman of NGS, and Tony Sablo, head of National Geographic’s Human Resources division. In the letter, Terry expressed his… well, let’s just say “some concerns.” I responded to Terry (and John & Tony) via email… received another letter from Terry… and later talked to Terry and Tony on the phone. Then I hired a lawyer — a friend who runs a small law practice in Silver Spring, Maryland.
On December 10, 2013, my lawyer sent a reply to Terry. Here’s how it concluded: “Alan and I would be willing to meet with you to discuss how we can establish some specific guidelines that might help us avoid any future misunderstandings…. Our goal is to find a mutually agreeable and constructive way to move forward, and to help NGS survive and thrive in the months and years to come.”
On January 17, 2014, we received a reply from attorney David Hensler, a partner at Hogan Lovells, a law firm with more than 2,500 attorneys operating out of more than 40 offices in the United States, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. According to the Hogan Lovells website:
David [Hensler] was described as “the city’s commercial litigator par excellence” in a Legal Times article titled “Identifying 20 Leading Litigators.” David was also described as “a 24-carat commercial litigator” and was ranked No. 1 for General Commercial Litigation in Washington, D.C. in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business Litigation. David is also listed as a leading Commercial Litigator in The Best Lawyers in America and Chambers Global—The World’s Leading Lawyers for Business.
Dear John Fahey: Message received.
Before I say good-bye, a few thank yous:
- To a lot of smart, insightful, creative people: From the beginning, Society Matters attempted to take some of the brightest thinking about the future of journalism, and focus that light on the particular challenges and opportunities at the National Geographic Society. How can the Society grow and prosper? Given the realities of digital media — and given consumer reluctance to pay for “content” — what’s the best business model for NGS? What ideas and values might animate our Society and persuade people to become National Geographic members? What might be undermining those ideas and values, and be driving people away? How can our Society thrive and survive without compromising the values that once made the organization such a huge success?
Over the years, that bright thinking has come from many people — some of whom I know personally, but most of whom I know only through their work. Their ideas, insights and analysis have been extraordinarily helpful to me in developing my running commentary and critique of the National Geographic Society’s business model.
These luminaries include (in no particular order): Jay Rosen, Neil Postman, David Weinberger, Doc Searls, Jeff Howe, Clay Shirky, Steve Buttry, Jeff Jarvis, Andrea Seabrook, Danielle Marie Mackey, Dan Pollatta, Dan Conover, Margaret Sullivan, Alan Rusbridger, Chris Hedges, Bob Garfield, Brooke Gladstone, Scott Heiferman, Mathew Ingram, Craig Kanalley, Anil Dash, Jennifer Preston, Conor Friedersdorf, Alexis Madrigal, Eric Deggans, Evgeny Morozov, Andy Carvin, David Cohn, John McQuaid, James Mann, Thomas de Zengotita, William Powers, Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan Zuckerman, Xu Liangying, Terry Heaton, Tom Shales, Bob Poole, Melville Grosvenor, John Fahey, Nicholas Kristof, Bill McKibben, Evan Osnos, James Fallows, Kathleen McLaughlin, Emily Bell, Phelim Kine, Edward Wong, Mark MacKinnon, Amanda Michel, Seth Godin, Jim Romenesko, Brent Schulkin, Scott Rosenberg, Jim Hopkins, David Carr, Jack Shafer, Michael Wolff, David Folkenflik, Neil Chenoweth, Dan Gillmor, Stephanie Hawkins, Catherine Lutz, Jane Collins, David Harmon, Francis McManamon, Dwight Pitcaithley, Peter Block, Wendell Berry, Lawrence Lessig, Jason Pontin, Chris Mottes, Seth Goldman, Michael Schrage, Mike Parfit, Betsy O’Donovan, Sanal Mazvancheryl, John Greening, Tom Stites, and many more. Thank you all for your ideas and inspiration.
- To my board of advisers: Thank you for your suggestions, for your wise counsel, and, most of all, for believing in this project — and in me. Getting up on stage, virtual and otherwise, to present a new idea or to offer a critique wasn’t always easy for me, but seeing your names in the sidebar (at left) usually gave me the reassurance I needed.
- To my friends & former colleagues at National Geographic: I understand why most of you couldn’t “join the conversation” here. But my Google Analytics dashboard indicates that many of you visited Society Matters quite regularly. I am eternally grateful for your interest, and for your (behind-the-scenes) support.
- To everyone who visited Society Matters: When I launched this project in 2009, I had no idea who might be interested in this subject, and how many people might tune in. The answer astounded me: tens of thousands of people came here from all over the world, and many of you returned repeatedly. Thank you for your sustained interest, your time, and all your comments — even the critical ones. Especially the critical ones.
I’ve always believed — and I still believe — that the long-term health and viability of any community is largely a function of its capacity to facilitate, even encourage, spirited yet civil debate about the things that matter most. That’s true for our Society (I’m still a dues-paying member of NGS) — and for our society. Without such debate, democratic societies perish. I’m only sorry that we will no longer be able to have that conversation here.
The Final Word goes to NGS Chairman John Fahey:
I couldn’t agree more.
all the best,