National Geographic mag lays off its last staff writers

Originally published at: National Geographic mag lays off its last staff writers | Boing Boing


Well, we truly are at the end of an era. Magazines like this have been squeezed by other media: not only the internet but also by television. Being owned mostly by Disney, who is less magazine oriented means nostalgia has already been tapped out. 19 staff writers seems to be a healthy amount for the end, since a lot of stories were written by the actual expeditions, I thought.

It did lead me into a cursory search as to what the Society is still up to, and see that it’s still a nonprofit NGO, still with the stated goal of promoting knowledge of geography.

Things change. The monthly magazine is gone. This old Gen X’er will mourn the old research source of many a school essay, but… everything must end some time.


Once the last staff writer is gone National Geographic might as well end its incredibly long print run. Once the word gets out I’m not even going to bother to pick up a copy to browse through while waiting for a doctor appointment.

One of my uncles back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s had a subcription and as a little kid I could hardly wait to check out the pictures and the new maps. Somehow a globe just didn’t give the same vibe as the Nat Geo maps.


It’s sounds like the new National Geographic will be cobbled together by an unpaid intern from stuff concocted by ChatGPT et al.


You know, at my last waiting room visit not a single person looked at a magazine. Why bother, when your phone is much better at killing time?

Let’s face it, magazines and other paper based ephemeral writing is no longer attractive, financially, to make. One of the biggest problems was the waste involved trying to print for demand, and often sitting on unsold copies that became worthless as the information within grew stale.

Disney will want to protect the brand’s reputation, because shoddy text will impact on viewership of the National Geographic channels, but I think they just didn’t see the readership any more to justify the dead tree staff.


The initial Fox purchase was the death knell for NG. Dilution of a major brand never ends well.


The only place where it still makes sense for the publishers is so-called “collector’s edition” magazines. It seems weird, but I’ve read articles that describe how older people really do buy those perfect-bound slicks about Elvis or D-Day or Queen Elizabeth that you see at the supermarket checkout counter.

I can easily see Nat Geo going with this model, if they aren’t already. It would be nice if they maintained the quality of the old monthly, but when you’re trying to reel in obsessive collectors that becomes a secondary concern at best.


I purchased Rolling Stone’s Grateful Dead special edition a while back while going thru a market checkout. I couldn’t resist.


The only magazines I see in doctor’s waiting rooms anymore are promotional fluff crap like New Jersey Top Docs, freebie local things-to-do mags, local business promotional fluff crap, and occasionally People and/or Us. This is kind of a chicken or egg problem. Did we stop reading magazines because they all suck, or did they all start sucking because we stopped reading them?




The last time I was in a waiting room I used my phone to read Elizabeth Bishop’s “In The Waiting Room” because all the “magazines” were promotional pamphlets. I was very much aware of the irony, though.


Magazines had their mid-century golden age, but long before smartphones came along they were ensh-ttified by corporate owners. What lofty mission statements there were became subsumed by lowest-common-denominator profit-seeking; expensive prestige writers were replaced by no-name hacks; fact-checking departments were eliminated; the text was dumbed down before being pushed out by pictures; the ad-to-editorial ratio steadily increased; all-advertorial “magazines” got equal placement on the newsstands; and here we are. Technology* was the final coffin nail.

My first paid job in journalism was as a fact-checker at a quality magazine in the late '80s. Everyone working there saw the writing on the wall even then.

[* ETA: including once reputable brands being turned into SEO content farms/vanity presses.]


I wonder is the distance to the quality past why The French Dispatch wasn’t particularly liked? Or at least from anyone I talked to.

My fondness for quality long form writing from America probably made me more receptive to it than most.


That ship has sailed, AFAIAC. NG’s televised output has been in a headlong slide into sensationalistic dreck, seemingly in an attempt to compete with the pablum served up at Discovery and History channel, for at least the last decade.


Since I was a space nut, for the longest time, I had their map of the moon posted up on my wall.

At some level, the wonder is that it has taken this long for them to reach this level of en-shittening. They embraced the new-ish medium of photography and became a home for truly awsome photography, but other magazines that were largely image (Life, Look, Ebony, etc.) based disappeared or became shadows of their former selves decades ago.


A few years back we ordered a pizza for takeout at this local place a bit outside our regular area. I got there a little early and our pizza was still in the oven so I grabbed a chair by the door while I waited, which is where I discovered that this place subscribed to at least three monthly magazines devoted to the pizza trade.


As first poster said, end of an era.

When I was little, my great aunt Alice and uncle Harry had a couple hundred National Geographics on a shelf, and I would read them when I came over. I loved seen the rows and rows of yellow.

I wanted that same shelf and had a pretty god damn huge collection of them.

When I moved to a small house, I realized that my dream of a golden shelf was - well - impractical. My shelves were full of actual books and honestly, I’ve collected and stored these for 20 years with out really enjoying them.

I found some one on marketplace and gave them away to a homeschooler. I hope those kids have as much fun traveling to other places as I did.


The thing about their photography is that it’s expensive. People native to the “inhospitable regions” typically don’t have the money for Canon L lenses and multi-thousand dollar camera bodies. So Nat Geo footed the bills. But without their backing, there will be a lot fewer qualified people delivering new images to the world’s media.

Does this mean we can expect they’ll be replaced by Midjourney-generated images of snow leopards stalking prey in the mountains? AIs aren’t exactly experts on endangered species, and they surely aren’t sources of truth for the current state of nature (or anything else, really.)

Documentarians are the last defenders many endangered species have. If we hope to preserve any shreds of nature on this spinning rock, we need their eyes on those remote corners.


Trade magazines and professional journals are a separate breed of magazine. They’ll be around, probably also in dead-tree form, for a while yet.


Oh, one more National Geographic story. I pissed them off and got a cease and desist letter! (or maybe it was an email.)

So Kevin Wlilmott, professor at Kansas University, and co-writer of Black Klansman (among other movies) did this indie movie called CSA: Confederate States of America. It was a mockumentary/black comedy about if the South had won the Civil War and there was slavery today. It is on Amazon to rent if you want to check it out. I thought it was really good. My best friend from HS edited most of it, I think he got a producer credit for all of his work. He also did a cameo as Hitler touring the Kansas State house.

Anyway, he wanted to build a website to promote it, and I got invited in to help. Others did the bulk of the rest of the site, but I put together this timeline. It basically was a timeline with images showing what historical events changed, or didn’t happen. Like Pope John Paul II was still shot, but by an American Protestant. Kevin wrote some of the featured events and I filled in the rest.

I made the timeline like look like a special feature of “Confederate Geographic” complete with gold frames around the images and mimicking the font. Somehow they caught wind of this, and Kevin emailed me and needed me to change We just changed the gold to red, and that seems to satisfy us not using their trade dress and firmly within parody territory.