Winter 2008

Working Life

MS’74  Agricultural Journalism

home  Arlington, Virginia

occupation  Executive Editor, National Geographic Magazine

what I’m doing when I’m not working  Being a dad to our daughters Claudia and Sofia, and a husband to my wife Kim. I also run, walk and cook barbecue chicken weekly, using special secret marinades.

best thing I learned at CALS  Radio – I had never done radio before I met Larry Meiller, and now I love it. Larry was a wonderful mentor and guide.

How did you come to work for National Geographic?

I spent a lot of years working for daily newspapers as a photographer, writer and editor. Someone noticed my work, and I got a phone call.

What’s your role now?

I think up ideas for stories, do original research to flesh out ideas, write outlines of potential visual situations that would animate and illustrate ideas, manage projects, work with writers and text editors to be sure words and pictures for stories are on same track, edit film, and work with photographers and layout editors to select and sequence pictures that will appear in a story. Meetings. Lots of meetings.

National Geographic is famous for its photography. What makes for a winning image?

Two things basically determine whether a picture succeeds. Is it relevant? Does it have emotional appeal? It must have both. One without the other fails. The pictures must be on point and speak to why we are doing a story. They also must connect with us in ways that cause our intuitive nature to respond. Hearts and minds, pictures must appeal to both.

How much ends up on the cutting room floor?

Depends. Some stories may have 20,000 pictures taken. But it’s not the number of pictures that matters, really. What matters are the situations chosen to photograph, the when and how and where of the photography, and whether pictures are being taken at a time when emotional intensity is being revealed, the points of inflection. Decisive moments, if you will.

What’s it take to be a good editor?

My work is much akin to that of a documentary film producer. I’m responsible for originating, orchestrating and implementing a film in still images that tells a story.

This requires great and ongoing awareness and understanding of what goes on in the world, and why. Lots of diplomatic skills are needed in working with and inspiring a whole team of creative collaborators. My education only really began the day I walked out of UW–Madison. I need to learn new things every day to survive.

Have you had any scrapes in the field working for the magazine?

I don’t work in the field, so mostly, my scrapes are riding the subway to work. It stinks, but it beats driving.

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