This is the most difficult (and surreal) post I’ve had to write. I’m leaving Beliefnet, the company I co-founded in 1999.
In mid November, I’ll be stepping down as President and Editor in Chief to lead a project on the future of the media for the Federal Communications Commission, the government agency that sets rules for the communications industry. (FCC Press Release here)
I can’t quite think of a suitable analogy. Perhaps it’s something like saying goodbye to your child as he goes off to college? (Except I’m the one leaving). I feel an intense mix of sadness, excitement and pride.
I thought of the idea that became Beliefnet in 1997. Robert Nylen, a talented magazine publisher, and I secured funding in 1999 and launched the site December 28, 1999 (we used to joke that we wanted to get it up in time for the new millennium in case there was an apocalypse, which we thought would be good for traffic). Beliefnet has had many highs and lows, having boomed and busted and then gradually thrived again, becoming the largest multifaith website. 3.2 million people have visited us this month and 14 million have received email newsletters.
We had a variety of motives in starting Beliefnet — personal, professional, and entrepreneurial. They all converged around a simple idea: faith is profoundly important to most Americans, and it was too often treated incompletely or condescendingly by mainstream media. We wanted to provide a safe place where people could explore their faith and find strength, hope, insight and friendship.
Our mission has been to help you enrich your faith or spiritual practice, but we secretly have hoped that the site would, along the way, improve understanding among believers of different flavors, too.
The best is yet to come for Beliefnet. The company will be led by Beth Ann Eason, the general manager and COO, who has been skillfully running the business side already for almost two years. Ju-Don Roberts, the senior vice president for content and community (who recently joined us from The WashingtonPost.com, where she was managing editor), will take over leadership of the editorial and community aspects. The whole Beliefnet team, as you might have guessed by now, is extraordinary. What’s more, News Corp and Fox have been very good to us since acquiring the company in 2007 and we’re busily hatching exciting plans for further improvements.
I’m going to become “Senior Advisor to the Chairman” at the FCC, helping (in the words of the press release) “to assess the state of media in these challenging economic times and make policy recommendations designed to ensure a vibrant media landscape.
In a way, it feels a bit like 1999 for me. I started Beliefnet because I thought a particular group — people of faith — weren’t getting the information they needed. Now, there may be a more systemic crisis in journalism and I’m honored to be able to help address that.
One last factor: I know Julius Genachowski, the new chairman of the FCC, quite well. He’s as talented, honest and decent a person as you’ll find in public service.
I’ll undoubtedly reminisce in this space before I leave — about the extraordinary people I’ve worked with, the caring people I’ve met in the faith and spirituality community, and about how privileged I feel to have been given this gift for the past 10+ years.
But I can’t resist saying a bit more, today, about the people who visit Beliefnet. When we started turning message board posts into articles in 2000, we didn’t know to call it “user generated content” or that such user involvement would revolutionize communications. It has been clear since day one that Beliefnet’s character derives in significant part from the contributions of those who visit, participate, and very often comfort and inspire each other here with stunning eloquence. What a blessing it has been for me to watch this all unfold.
I realize you all have very busy lives. You have a thousand different options for how to spend your time. I am, and will always be, profoundly grateful that you’re spending some of that time on Beliefnet.