Friday, November 20, 2015

RIP National Geographic

Here's a copy of an email I recently sent to the National Geographic Magazine, on the occasion of their selling out to Fox:
I am writing to cancel my subscription to the National Geographic Magazine.  I grew up with it; my father has been a subscriber since before I can remember, and I took over his subscription when he died some years ago.  The Magazine was an inexpensive way for many people to learn about parts of the world they would never otherwise have seen, and the fact that the publication was backed by the trustworthy National Geographic Society meant that this widely-available educational force was of high quality and academic rigor.  The creation of the National Geographic channel has surely increased the reach of the brand, but it always seemed to me to be much more focused on sordid thrills than intellectual honesty.  When I recently learned that Fox was an increasingly dominant partner in the channel, I understood better the disparity I'd long noted between the quality of the channel and the Magazine.  The recent sale of the Magazine to Fox has definitively destroyed my faith in the publication as an honest broker of knowledge.  I still don't understand how a not-for-profit can sell rights to its members' bulletin, but in any case, I don't want any part of it.  It makes me sad to see my family's long relationship with the Society broken, but we're not the ones who have broken it.  The Society is.  It's shameful.
I want to stress that I feel like National Geographic played an important role in popular education in the US, and probably elsewhere.  Even if you didn't want to spring a few bucks for a new issue, you could find relatively recent magazines in doctor waiting rooms, libraries, and thrift stores.  Even older issues were enlightening and held information that didn't lose relevance quickly.  The Magazine served as a sort of curator of easily-accessible knowledge for the non-academic masses.  I don't know who will continue to serve that role now that the Magazine's credibility as an objective reporter is going down the tubes.  It's a major loss, especially as many universities and museums, also formerly repositories of honest, widely-accessible learning, become more expensive and more beholden to commercial interests.  It will be an even bigger tragedy if the Magazine starts to employ the tone used by the TV channel, which I would describe as glorifying a militarized, proto-fascist police state through its heavy circulation of sympathetic programs about prisons, surveillance equipment, counterterrorism, war machines, and antisocial doomsday survivalists.

Here's a bit more information on the sale of all National Geographic media rights to Fox.  Note in particular that among the massive layoffs underway at National Geographic right now are the fact-checkersI'd already noted the quality of the Magazine slipping, and the TV channel was always revolting shit, so with even fewer ties to factual reality and academic integrity, I can't imagine how they'll look.  I am sure Murdoch and co. will be able to improve the profitability of the NatGeo brand by lowering costs and seeking out new revenue streams.  But all of this will be at the expense of quality and integrity.  This article paints a picture of the National Geographic Society as unprofitable and too high-minded, with the TV channel providing most of the income to fund real scientific work.  If that is the case, why is Murdoch so interested in buying all of the media streams, including the supposedly unprofitable magazines?  And even if it's true that the TV channel was one of the Society's few profit-makers, why not then hold on to their 50% stake in it?  It seems like the status quo was funding the magazines and other media, as well as the scientific work that is the National Geographic Society's raison d'etre.  So why not have maintained some semblance of independence of mission by holding on to the Society's stake in the media outlets?

You wouldn't know about any of this from the cheery official webpage for the Society.  The sunny, inspiring video they present strikes me as so cynical in light of their mercantile machinations with Fox, an entity notable even among the parasitic fray of TV companies for their lack of decency, honesty, or intellectual integrity, and for their exceptional commitment to the destruction of individuals, cultures, nations, and ecosystems.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you Greg. After more than 40 years of subscribing I am not renewing our subscription. I will miss the former National Geographic Magazine.