There comes a time in the life of every young organization, firm, or company when the founder moves on. It is a time of anxiety, but also a milestone of maturity, evidence that the entity can stand on its own two feet. At MassINC, the parent organization and publisher of CommonWealth, that time has come.
In 1995, the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth was but a twinkle in Tripp Jones’s eye. It was an idea that came out of seven years of public service and political activism, especially the frustrations that go with that life. His experience in government and politics convinced Tripp there was a need in this state for clear-eyed analysis and honest dialogue, free from the poison of partisanship, focused on the goal of growing and revitalizing the middle class. In retrospect, that proposition seems eminently reasonable, but at the time the notion of creating an organization to pursue such a mission was little short of fanciful. It’s safe to say the early benefactors, chief among them our first chairman, Mitchell Kertzman, were investing more in Tripp Jones, civic entrepreneur, than in the MassINC business plan.
Tripp has made good on those early votes of confidence. Working with other MassINC pioneers who have since moved on–notably Michael Gritton and Dave Denison–he built our humble think tank into a $2 million nonprofit enterprise. What we have to show for his efforts are a stack of groundbreaking research reports and a track record of public events that Tripp would undoubtedly call “spectacular,” reaching its pinnacle in the Politics Unusual anniversary gala last May. Then there is the magazine, of which this issue is the 29th published since launch in the spring of 1996 and the first number of our eighth volume.
Call me conceited, but I think CommonWealth is the most remarkable product of Tripp’s efforts, and easily the biggest act of faith associated with the entire MassINC venture. Not only did Tripp go against the counsel of his most trusted advisors in burdening his fledgling organization with such a risky project, but he showed further evidence of madness by granting his flagship publication wide editorial liberty. CommonWealth would not be a house organ, disseminating the MassINC party line, but a vehicle for truly independent journalism on politics, ideas, and civic life. By keeping himself, the publisher, at arm’s length from the contents, he achieved for this magazine an enviable degree of credibility not only among readers but among journalists who, like myself, consider themselves blessed to have such a publication to write for. This willingness to respect CommonWealth‘s editorial independence is all the more remarkable considering the grief he has taken from all sorts of dissatisfied customers.
Which is not to say that Tripp doesn’t share his thoughts about the magazine: The stories are too long and dense, not enough charts and graphs. I’m used to hearing that (and not only from him). But when it comes to my own writing, there’s no one whose opinion I value more than his. It’s a good feeling to know that MassINC, and CommonWealth, are ready to carry on without him but I, for one, do so grudgingly.
We all knew that one day Tripp Jones would move on. His talents and his passion for changing the world were always too great to be contained within any single venture, even one as ambitious and consuming as this one. Some of us wish that day had not come quite so soon. But that’s only because sharing Tripp’s vision, and feeding off his energy and enthusiasm, have been so much fun. For consolation, we remind ourselves that he won’t be going far, and that he’ll remain involved in MassINC, serving on the board of directors. No one here thinks we’ve heard the last of Hugh R. Jones III. And that’s a source of comfort as well.