A Changing of the Guard at National Journal

As the beloved Charlie Green steps away from a publication he has lived and breathed for the past 16 years, relative newcomer Tim Grieve steps into the role of Editor-in-Chief of National Journal Magazine as well as NationalJournal.com. Bruce Gottlieb, President of National Journal, announced the news to staff just after noon today with a bittersweet champagne toast for Green.

Gottlieb said he asked Green to take two weeks to hopefully return with a different decision. This is all very personal for Gottlieb, who has worked with Green for years. Green spoke very favorably and said kind things about Grieve – that he has great news and digital sense and will make a fine leader. Then Grieve spoke and said it’s a huge honor for him to step into Green’s role.

Green broke the news to Publisher David Bradley three months ago. The men had an agreement. A few years back when Bradley had to offer buyouts. At the time, he implored Green not to take it. He didn’t. But said when he knew it was the right time to move on to something new that Bradley would accept his resignation graciously, without a fight.

By far this announcement by Bradley is more dramatic and heartfelt than anything we’ve seen from him in three and a half years. And that’s saying a lot since Bradley doesn’t sneeze without being dramatic.

See the must-read memo…Bradley even breaks into song. My Colleagues at National Journal:

As if in the same entering class at school, Charlie Green and I joined the National Journal Group roughly contemporaneously. Charlie was recruited by Steve Smith as the magazine’s deputy editor in 1997; I joined only a few months prior. I’ve barely spent a working day in media without Charlie Green carrying the larger work. Now, I will have to. After 16 years at the National Journal Group, rising to editor of the whole, Charlie has decided that he would like a new run with his career still at its zenith. For reasons I’ll explain below, I’m honor bound to acquiesce. As Charlie steps back, I’m reassured of strong leadership by Bruce’s and my decision to appoint Tim Grieve, himself an extreme talent, to the position of editor-in-chief overseeing all our journalism products.

As to Charlie—and as to my sense of being bound by honor—I want to tell the story of this great editor’s time with us. On first purchasing the National Journal, and immediately trying to add columnist Stuart Taylor to our ranks, I came across a large perception problem. Stuart had been on the threshold of accepting our offer—and leaving the American Lawyer—when its (very, very) smart owner, Steve Brill, asked Stuart: “National Journal – isn’t that the Washington reference publication with the three-hole punch?” Under Steve Smith, then under Michael Kelly but then, and most, under Charlie Green, the National Journal became a first-tier-talent, national-class magazine. For 16 years, Charlie has edited the most-intelligent, considered, trustworthy, prestigious public policy publishing property in the U.S.  All of us who love this brand are profoundly in his debt.

As won’t surprise any of our editorial staff, the degree of Charlie’s talent caught me unaware. Michael Kelly first told me: “You know, this deputy editor Steve hired – he’s really something. I mean the real deal.”  Then, when Michael left Washington to edit The Atlantic, he added: “I don’t really think we have to do any recruiting here. Charlie’s really it. You’ll never hear him say it, but he can do this better than I can.” Demonstrating the highest ratio of exceptional talent over selfless regard I’ve ever seen, Charlie lead us from then on.

The “honor-bound” story is more personal. Three years ago, in a hard hour for the National Journal, I decided we needed to pursue a reorganization.  Expecting some turnover in staff, and not wanting to decide who, I offered a buyout to 100% of the editorial staff. I thought a few would choose to go; in the event, it was barely safe to stand between the elevators and the B-2 garage so headlong was the rush for the door. At the time, I had told Charlie that he, too, had a right to take the buyout, but I asked him not to. I understood by then, acutely, that I needed Charlie, probably Atlantic Media’s single most-beloved leader, to hold the center. In asking Charlie to stay, I committed that, whenever he decided he did want to move on, I would support that decision. Charlie brought me the news, three months ago, that that time had arrived. He will be leaving at the end of the year.  I want to return to an image of Charlie, and his great service in life, that I’ve had in mind for this writing. But, first, let me turn to the unsurpassed good news that Tim Grieve has agreed to serve as National Journal Group’s editor-in-chief.

Tim joined us in May to re-create the National Journal website. Like so much ambitious legal talent—Tim, Bruce, Stuart Taylor, Steven Brill, (me)—Tim devoted his legally-trained mind to getting out of law. Raised in California, graduating Stanford, graduating Georgetown Law, clerking in Washington for the nation’s second-highest court, practicing – some – in California, Tim reported for the Sacramento Bee and, leaving law behind, became a senior writer at Salon. Before joining National Journal, Tim was a top editor at Politico – having edited Congressional coverage and then launched Politico’s Politico Pro product line. Tim is a force of nature and a professional on a vertical trajectory through life. I’m not sure that he would have chosen to lead the whole of the National Journal Group, surely not this early, but Charlie joins Bruce and me in thinking Tim is made for this work. I am deeply appreciative of Tim and deeply appreciative he is here.

Closing, and in an indulgence only the owner should risk, I want to set down the mental image of Charlie I’ve had since I began thinking about my letter to you. Most will know it, though maybe our youngest staff not. That is the closing scene from the 1946 Christmas drama, It’s a Wonderful Life. Dear George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is the man who has given up on everything he had intended in life instead to serve others. As a 12-year-old, he saves his brother from drowning and, in so doing, loses his own hearing. His brother goes on to become a WWII fighting ace; loss of hearing keeps George from enlisting. He gives up college to take over his father’s struggling savings & loan. He uses savings for his honeymoon with Mary (Donna Reed) to bail out depositors. And then, in the penultimate scene, the closing crisis, a careless Uncle Billy loses $8,000 of the bank’s deposits setting the bank on a course to insolvency. Unable to find a loan to carry the bank through, George climbs out on a bridge to leap into the freezing (December) waters below. George, saved by an angel, is shown how worse would have been the lives of the neighbors in Bedford Falls had George not devoted his life to them. George returns home, Christmas Eve, house decked out for the holiday, to find word has gone out – George is in trouble. Neighbors, by the score, are coming by to give of their savings. I’ll switch to excerpts from the script:

Uncle Billy: “Mary did it, George! Mary did it! She told a few people you were in trouble and they scattered all over town collecting money. They didn’t ask any questions – just said, ‘If George is in trouble, count on me.’ You never saw anything like it.”

(Charlie adds his money to the pile.)

(Martini dumps his money on the table.)

(Mr. Gower enters with a large glass jar jammed full of notes.)

(Violet arrives and takes out the money George had given her for her trip to New York.)

Violet: “I’m not going to go, George. I changed my mind.”

Annie: “I’ve been saving this money for a divorce, if I ever get a husband.”

People line up in the warmly decorated house to give their savings. A crowd forms outside and begins to sing. The festive scene ends with everyone singing “Auld Lang Syne:”

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne,
my dear,
for auld lang syne.
We’ll take a cup of
kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my
trusty friend!
And gives us a hand o’

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Maybe you had to be there. But, those who know the story will sense something of the direction my mind has taken. In my career, I don’t think that I’ve known a man more beloved, thought a more universal blessing, than Charlie Green. I don’t know that Charlie, especially Charlie, can understand how broadly and how much he has meant.

Thank you, Charlie.

Thank you, Tim.

My best to all.