Atlantic Media is shaking things up at National Journal, its publication for Beltway wonks. On Friday, owner David Bradley announced that Charlie Green, the magazine’s longtime editor, would leave the company at the end of the year after 16 years. Tim Grieve, who joined in May from rival Politico and is currently National Journal’s digital editor, will add oversight for the print magazine.
National Journal has been retooling for some time as it jockeys for position in an intensifying battle for readers and advertisers in the D.C. market. Last year, it announced a big reorg designed to make its website appeal to a national audience. At the time, the company named Green head of its Membership team, overseeing the brand’s existing products, calling him “one of the city’s most able and respected editors.”
Bradley waxed nostalgic in a staff memo, recalling Green’s willingness to stay on in 2010 when most of the employees left in a buyout and comparing him to the self-sacrificing George Bailey in the 1946 Christmas drama It’s a Wonderful Life, even quoting from the script. Some excepts:
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 [Gottlieb, president of National Journal Group and general counsel]'s and my decision to appoint Tim Grieve, himself an extreme talent, to the position of editor in chief overseeing all our journalism products.
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 percent 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.
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.
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.