Why it’s important to tell stories that inspire action, not despair

Leaving after eight years at National Geographic, the editor in chief reflects on the challenges of covering climate change and other crucial issues.

Dear reader,

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to make a difference, to help make the world a better place. It’s why I became a journalist 42 years ago and why I came to National Geographic.

This is my last letter to you as editor in chief. I’m deeply grateful to have spent eight years working with some of the world’s best journalists—dedicated professionals who’ve received 10 National Magazine Awards, three Pulitzer Prize finalist nominations, two Webby Media Company of the Year honors, and hundreds of other accolades during my time as editor.

I’m leaving National Geographic for the world of higher education. At Arizona State University I’ll do what I can to strengthen journalism during a challenging time for the free press. And I’ll be working with the next generation of storytellers, who must communicate ever more powerfully about daunting issues like climate change.

As I’ve learned through our work here, there’s a conundrum to covering these issues: How can honest reporting on existential threats keep readers engaged without leaving them feeling hopeless? How can journalism on these complex topics ignite audiences’ curiosity, foster deeper understanding, and excite people about solutions? Trying always to achieve that balance—while creating visually rich, reportorially deep, global journalism—has been both as gratifying and as vexing as anything in my professional life.

Every day at National Geographic we track the latest in science, the environment, and the human journey in all its marvelous complexity. The covers above reflect some of the most consequential topics of the past eight years (and some are also personal favorites).

As I look back, I’m proud that we’ve explored issues such as gender and race—and in doing so were willing to examine publicly our own troubled history. I’m proud that we make it our business to celebrate the world’s wonders and report on what’s going right. And I’m proud of our progress—though far from complete—in assembling a diverse, global corps of writers, photographers, and other journalists. Who better to cover a fast-changing, multitextured world?

It’s been a true honor to work with my gifted colleagues here. It’s been a privilege to work on National Geographic, with its enduring legacy, and a singular opportunity to help reinvent it for today’s audiences. Thank you for taking that journey with me.

And thank you for reading National Geographic.

This story appears in the April 2022 issue of National Geographic magazine.

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