The Atlantic Hosts Big Names in Journalism and Politics at "First Draft of History" Summit

By Michael O'Connell September 30, 2009, 4:35 PM EDT

This Thursday and Friday, The Atlantic, partnering with the Aspen Institute and the Newseum, will hold what producers hope to be the first of many annual summits of journalists, politicians, and business leaders. “The First Draft of History” boasts a lineup of back-to-back interviews between the likes of David Axelrod and Charlie Gibson, John McCain and David Gregory, and Michael Bloomberg and George Stephanopoulos.

“This is a really unique moment in Washington with the new administration and all of the new people,” said Elizabeth Baker Keffer, president of Atlantic Live, the events arm of Atlantic Media. “And with with the economic downturn and the city's role in that, Washington has become the center of attention.”

Baker Keffer and Atlantic editors got the idea for the event about a year ago and formalized the plan in early 2009, after partnering with the Aspen Institute and Newseum trustee Shelby Coffey, whose long journalism background came in handy. Once the venue and timing were settled upon, the real challenge was wrangling all of the talent required to fill the two days of programming. The magazine found an event editorial director in reporter Margaret Carlson, who worked with Atlantic Media president Justin Smith and editor in chief James Bennet to find the right people to appear at the event.

“They have been meeting relentlessly to capture this talent,” Baker Keffer said. “They made a wish list of the top news-makers and journalists, and, in each case, what we've done is look at who has the relationships and who should reach out.”

The event team also spent a lot of time curating a guest list. An expected 500 to 600 individuals will head to the Newseum over the course of the two-day conference, with Washington-based politicos and journalists accounting for the majority of them. Leaders from the worlds of business, nonprofits, and education—presidents of Brown, Harvard, and New York University among them—will join a handful of lottery winners and local students to fill the seats.

Space is limited. The Knight Conference Center on the museum's seventh floor has seating for 250, with room for about another 100 in overflow. The room will be altered to fit the event design, with staging and set production by Future View, and a large time line of events from the past year that also appears in in the programs. The Atlantic also worked with partners such as CSI for printing and branding, Sugarplum Tents, MarcParc Valet, in-house Newseum caterer Wolfgang Puck Catering, and the event's executive producer, Tammy Haddad.

“One of our goals is to use this to set a foundation for an annual gathering, an appointment event for leaders around the country and potentially around the globe,” Baker Keffer said. “Although this is different, we'd like it to achieve the same resonance and engagement that Davos [home of the World Economic Forum] has.”

Regardless of the precedent this week's summit sets, the magazine already has plans to keep the event in the minds of attendees and readers. The January/February issue of The Atlantic will bear the title “The First Draft of History” and include reports on the proceedings as well as reflections from a handful of historians who'll be in attendance.

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