In celebration of the National Writers Series’ 10th anniversary, National Geographic’s editor-in-chief, Susan Goldberg, will join the series for a virtual Traverse City event on Sunday, August 23, beginning at 7 p.m. She’ll discuss major issues facing our planet with guest host Doug Stanton, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, and NWS co-founder.
Register for the virtual event. Tickets for the event link only cost $12 per person, though several donation options are also available. The Can-Demic Pulizter Club for $250 includes the event link, exclusive entry to an Afterglow Party with Susan Goldberg and Doug Stanton, a bottle of sparkling wine, a National Geographic subscription and more.
For storied journalist Susan Goldberg, ceilings exist for one purpose only: to be smashed. “My career has evolved on the seam of societal change,” she says, “and as it turns out, I’ve had the honor [of being first] a lot of times.” Goldberg was the first female editor of both The San Jose Mercury News and The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, as well as the first woman that the Detroit Free Press sent to Lansing to cover the legislature. “How ridiculous is that, right?” Goldberg asks. “You would think that was a barrier that would have been broken in about 1934, but it wasn’t until 1984 that the Free Press sent a woman to its State Capitol Bureau. Since I first started out, women have been given more and more opportunities.”
Now, with nearly 40 years of journalism experience under her belt, Goldberg is still growing her lengthy list of firsts. In 2014, she became National Geographic’s first female editor-in-chief, and just earlier this year was included in InStyle Magazine’s “Badass 50” feature, as one of the “women who are changing the world.”
Progress has always been part of the picture for Goldberg. “I’ve wanted to be a journalist ever since I was a little girl,” she says. A Michigan native, Goldberg grew up in Ann Arbor in the 1960s, when Vietnam War protests commanded the climate. “I saw how the reporting of what was going on in Vietnam actually changed the course of the war—how journalists were exposing lies being told by the administration—and I thought, ‘Wow!’ How amazing that there is a job where you can write true things and it can make a difference. That got me interested in doing stories that mattered.”
But what is “good” journalism, and how do we define it? “First, I think stories need to be accurate,” says Goldberg. “They need to be reported ethically and fairly, and they need to have perspective so people can really understand the issues.” Still, the real key to catching—and keeping—an audience, is a clear call to arms. “One of the things that has always stuck with me as a journalist,” Goldberg says, “is that stories [should] give people actionable information about how they could solve a problem. Sometimes, a great story is shining a light on something, so that people can feel inspired by it or emulate it. To me, those are the things that make good stories.”
Of course, the story taking up the most space in everyone’s minds most recently is the COVID-19 pandemic. “[National Geographic] has been covering COVID as [it has] unfolded across all of our digital platforms, so we are very involved in these conversations,” says Goldberg. “It’s hard to imagine a more important story to cover than this global health crisis.”
We certainly can’t. But, in the midst of all the COVID coverage, have other salient issues been swept to the side? Goldberg doesn’t see it that way. “All of these issues are interrelated,” she says. “I think the pandemic has made people realize that we live on a small planet and that global solutions are required for lots of different kinds of problems. Once the immediate crisis has passed, perhaps some of the lessons we’ve learned about the fragility of the planet can help solve some of these other problems that have currently fallen off the radar.”
Climate change is one of those problems. In next month’s issue of National Geographic, readers return home—to the Great Lakes, that is—to explore the region’s rapidly-disappearing ice. “A lot of places never really froze over this past winter,” says Goldberg. “Climate change is one of the issues that we cover all the time, but what’s happened to the Great Lakes this past year, and how few days there were where ice could be created, is a lesson that everyone in the world can relate to. From looking at melting glaciers to the ice sheet [in Antarctica], and how it’s very endangered; all over the place, we’re seeing the results of a warming planet. [Our September issue] just happens to tell it out of the Great Lakes.”
As for the next 10 years of news? A few more female “seconds” and “thirds” would be a good place to start. “I think we’ll live in a better society when there aren’t so many ‘firsts,’” Goldberg says. “When having a woman in charge is just the course of doing business. We’ll be in a better place when that’s not such a big deal anymore.”