National Geographic Fires Head of Award-Winning Site

Rob Covey's exit raises questions about print-digital future

National Geographic has fired the editor of its award-winning website—the same month that it collected a Magazine of the Year award recognizing its print and digital success. 

Rob Covey was hired in 2007 by Chris Johns, editor in chief of the magazine and a longtime friend of Covey's. He started as the site’s managing editor and creative director and rose to senior vice president of online content and design. Covey and Johns kept a close working relationship despite working for separate operating units, and Covey’s sudden departure has raised some questions internally about how closely the magazine and site will be tied in the future. In an unusual operating structure, the site falls under National Geographic Ventures, which is a taxable subsidiary of the magazine’s parent, the nonprofit National Geographic Society.

John Caldwell, president of National Geographic Digital Media, said he wouldn’t comment on Covey’s departure since it was a personnel matter, but said he was looking for a senior-level replacement to step up the department’s social media, online video, and apps initiatives.

“I think, candidly, there’s an opportunity to go to a whole other level,” he said. “The landscape has changed more in the past 18 months than I’ve ever seen. We as a group are constantly taking a look to see that we’re aligned[with that change]. The result of those shifts is the personnel change.”

Caldwell added that Digital Media’s interaction with the magazine wouldn’t change. “Our daily interaction with Chris Johns [and National Geographic Society executive vice president] Declan Moore, is critical in terms of our ability to create compelling digital experiences.”

Under Covey, the site has grown its audience dramatically, launched the popular community page My Shot where visitors can upload their own photos, and won scores of awards. In May, he and Johns shared the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Magazine of the Year award. In March, the site was a finalist for three digital National Magazine Awards, including one for online department. He couldn't be reached for comment.