Susan Goldberg stepped into the role of The Plain Dealer editor a month before Apple released its first iPhone in 2007. Over the next 3 1/2 years, she would usher the digital age into Cleveland’s newsroom by introducing more video content, around-the-clock news coverage and an engaged social media presence.
Ten years later, as editor-in-chief of National Geographic Magazine, cyberspace is still her frontier — just on a slightly larger scale. Since 2014, Goldberg has guided the almost 130-year-old institution into a new era of cross-platform engagement, without sacrificing journalistic excellence.
“We are engaged in an effort to take the organization from reverence to relevance,” says Goldberg on a call from her office in Washington, D.C. “So that means we’re trying to do stories on issues that are both important and are part of the modern day conversation.”
So far, Goldberg and her team have navigated that tricky formula where many media companies have faltered. Besides helming the No. 1 media brand on Instagram, National Geographic uses its considerable resources to tailor stories across mediums, whether on social media, its 2016 National Magazine Award-winning website, or in the hallowed pages of its monthly print edition.
For a January 2017 special issue, Goldberg led the staff’s exploration of today’s gender revolution with poignant video, sensitive reporting and striking photography. The package made National Geographic a 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist for explanatory reporting.
“It doesn’t matter where you work, whether it’s for a national audience or a local audience,” says Goldberg. “You have to pick the stories that will resonate with those communities, and that includes reaching different kinds of readers and users depending on what platform you’re putting out that information on.”
It’s a mission Goldberg has kept central throughout her career. In Cleveland, Goldberg was most proud of The Plain Dealer’s reporting on the Cuyahoga County corruption scandal. Her career is newsworthy in its own right: she was the first female editor of The Plain Dealer after serving as the first female managing editor of The San Jose Mercury News. She’s the first female editor of National Geographic, too.
“It’s important for me to always stress that we will be in a better place as a society when having a female leader of an organization is not such a notable event and is instead just the normal course of business,” says Goldberg.