National Geographic Traveler
"Editor's Note: Our Best Ambassadors" by Keith Bellows November 2005

Each time we send a writer or a photographer out into the field, I worry about three things. Will we get the story? Will it be good enough? And will the magazine be well represented - will the people our contributors encounter understand what a premium we put on responsible journalism, professionalism, an goodwill?

This third point is critical. Over the years, the Society's writers and photographers have sometimes journeyed abroad with a fancy letter of introduction, laden with ribbons and embossments, extolling the qualifications of the bearer and seeking all possible assistance. But always, people skills have been more important than paper blandishments. Indeed, TRAVELER'S reputation rests on the abilities of our contributor-ambassadors to forge good relationships with the locals they meet.

Take the case of photographer Macduff Everton. We sent him on short notice to shoot "Home on the Island," writer Karen Connelly's account last issue of her time spent living on the Greek island of Lesvos. She had discovered the place as a young adult and has continued to return there as a sort of temporary expatriate.

After Everton returned home, we received a note from Connelly. Part of it remarked on our laborious fact-checking process. "This provided a great deal of fascination/amusement. (Do I have a cat? What color is it?)" Mostly, though, she dwelt on the impression Everton had made on her intensely close-knit community, one not used to American tourists.

"Macduff's guide Mireille and her husband Panagos," she wrote, "were very impressed with the way Macduff worked and communicated, not just with them but with all the people they met. Macduff also very generously sent me some of the photographs he took as gifts to his subjects, which I am still in the process of giving to people. The people here are, generally, rich in many things but cash-poor, and these photographs are deeply appreciated by everyone."

"As you may/may not know, Greeks tend to be very anti-American, not just for current political reasons, but for the American support of the military dictatorship in the late '60s to mid '70s. How much intelligent and empathetic travelers can change and ameliorate old prejudices has been brought home to me anew as I've listened to my friends talk about how [Macduff was one of those] very 'good' Americans. Something the world needs more of!"

In this fashion, our writers and photographers make me smile in ways that have little to do with the actual work they produce. And it illustrates that the techniques these professionals use in the field are lessons for us all.

Keith Bellows, Editor