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Saturday, 12 September 2015


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I couldn't agree more with you, Mike, and your "Devil post" was great!

I have the NatGeo channel in my cable TV package in Spain, and again, I completely agree: it's pretty much unwatchable. If those are the standards we can expect after this acquisition, then NG is as good as finished.

I took yesterday's post as satire Mike and FWIW I agree that media ownership should not be concentrated in the hands of a few. America is in bad need of another Teddy Roosevelt right now on both the business and environmental fronts.

Years back I attended a lecture by Bruce Davidson. As he was working his way though some images from his "Subway" series he paused on a rather gloomy New York winter cityscape he shot from a train windows. After several seconds he remarked something like, "This is as close to a landscape as you'll see from me. Look at that. It's so...so...Geographic!

I had never heard that used as an adjective. It was hilarious.

Re: the fairness of free-enterprise in a theoretically democratic society? I'll leave that alone and stick to photography and art here.

I heartily agree

I totally, absolutely, agree.

It's really hard to be of any good if you don't irk at least a few of those who so achingly deserve it (I think that's in the Bible).

I remember my initial excitement (and immediate, subsequent befuddlement) and disappointment when I first discovered the online Nat Geo programs (don't have cable). At first I thought someone had somehow hijacked the name (and/or content), and of course, they had, just not the way I first imagined.

These days more than ever, whenever I encounter anything of quality, my mind automatically starts the countdown towards inevitable production degradation.

You didn't get into any trouble with me. I don't have a trouble with the devil at all either. I may actually like him. Or her, whatever. Keep this kind of writing. I don't care to read about the Sony 7II0-R17 dash 9....

Dear Mike,

Sometimes people get into trouble because they remind their fellow humans about phenoma and events which are a bit painful to deal with since they have been gradually accepted despite that they challenge the ideals we have been brought up with and that we still believe in if really pushed. Unfortunately, the Murdock takeover of National Geographic’s affairs is but one of many daily events of outsourcing public interests and control to business monopolies in the free western world. This phenomenon in the name of economism is a threat not only to fair and vital open markets and trade but also to the very functions of the true democratic society that all of your readers believe in. The sound of the whistle is harsh to some ears but someone has to be brave regardless and blow the whistle.

Thank you!

National Geographic was more than just a magazine. It had earn a place in this country, maybe the world, as a respected source of information, knowledge and images of the world we live in. Being bought out by Murdock and the Fox Empire is not just a travesty, it is unacceptable. If there isn't sufficient laws against monopolies controlling media in this country, we should demand our useless lawmakers write legislation preventing this from occurring in the future and allowing for the dismemberment of the huge media corporation now controlling access to news in America.

Mike, a) - I am in accord with your point of view, so maybe my voice might help soften the effect of those harsher voices? b) - IMNSHO - the USA is returning and/or has returned to those golden days of yesteryear, the Gilded Age, aka, an oligarchy. c) - while voting still counts, despite the opinions of those who say not, the situation is ripe for the emergence of a modern era "trust buster" d) - I stand a good chance of being called a "bleeding heart liberal" but - I still have my collection of Ayn Rand "Objectivist Newsletter" and I voted for Goldwater in 1964 - People evolve - if they think about things.

Mike, if you don't publish my comment, I'll understand. I am at the point where I'll skip the comments sections of news and political blogs, because neither side is listening. Let's stick to art, photography, and how's your new house and are you having fun?

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.
~ John Adams

This news makes me sad. I've always held the National Geographic Society in high esteem. In my opinion, it's one of the best quality, and most respectable institutions that America has ever created. This seems to be a bad end for the independent non-profit organization.

In 1972 my grandfather bought me a lifetime subscription/membership to the National Geographic Society. Every month since then the magazine has arrived, distinctive yellow borders intact. In fact every ten years or so, I get an "are you still alive" letter from them, no doubt hoping that they can cross my name off the list. I think the 1972 price for a lifetime membership was about $250, a pretty good bit of coin in those days. ($1,436.78 in inflation-adjusted 2015 dollars according to more than one on-line calculator) Still, it is hard to see how NG would have been able to invest that in a way that has made my lifetime subscription a good deal for them. $250 invested at 5% in 1972 would yield about $2,246.25 (according once again, to an on-line calculator with impossible-to-check math). Talk about the miracle of compounding!

So: I wonder how Rupert's owning all the properties will affect the rights of third parties like me.

As a side note, NG always seemed on the right of the fairly narrow American political spectrum in terms of their editorial choices. Kind of like a USAToday in the news world. Big emphasis on snazzy graphics, less on science near the cutting edge in terms of social change. I don't think that Murdoch's purchase is going to change things very much.

Mothers can be cruel, and they *never* forget!!

Not even dementia seemed to affect my late mothers capacity to remember the escapades and accidents, that her "little devil" had exercised in the early years of the life...


Does anyone remember when, to subscribe to NG, one had to be recommended?
I once had a dream to shoot for NG because the equipment a photographer got was a TRUNK load of Leicas and Nikons. WOW!
Things change and "evolve."
My two centavos.

The distinction between "for-profit" and "non-profit" and "not-for-profit" is basically a distraction created by the tax system.

And the substantive reality is surely that Nat Geo was going to "sell out" to one devil or another, or cease to exist.

Any entity only survives and pursues its mission when people assign resources to it. That could be by buying what it provides (Nat Geo magazine did charge for subscriptions recall), getting money from voluntary donors, having people work for free (which is a kind of donor), or getting money compelled from people by taxes. "Donors" and "advertisers" are a lot alike - they both provide 3rd party funding to some entity in exchange for... something...

Various "not-for-profits" have highly paid employees and other stakeholders, many "for-profits" are barely so and the stakeholders don't necessarily do so well.

The real trend here is that "high brow" or even "middle brow" has never had much support in the US (or perhaps really anywhere else.)

Murdoch may be the "face" of the devil here, but the real "devil" is that the vast majority of citizens don't care about these things very much and refuse, one way or another, to pay for them. This is not unique to photography or writing, it applies to movies, sculpture, painting, and above all music as much or more.

By the way, I don't care for most "high brow" cultural content myself, and thus I also refuse to pay for it.

Media concentration is a different issue.

I believe you're making one fundamental error. You are presupposing that there is some sort of break even market (even non/not for profit has to cover basic costs) in the printed media (or mixed paper/online) world. If there is then the end is very close and I imagine publishers know this.

If my local paper is any indication it's all essentially doomed to usa today, the NYT and Wall Street Journal. I love NG and will continue to subscribe for as long as the product warrants. I'm a 60s/70s snob like the rest of the dinosaurs who are gnashing their teeth at this supposed Faustian deal. But maintain that mediocre corporate NG is better than no NG.

Mike, Your comparison of The Devil with Rupert Murdoch is unfair to him.

Mike, without knowing who'd bought National Geographic, I thought your post was very amusing. Though I'm not anti-capitalist in any sense.

But Murdoch? It was absolutely perfect.

Re: "Got myself in trouble yesterday"

No, I don't think you did.

Just because someone disagreed with you does not mean that you are in trouble. I happen to agree completely that selling National Geographic Magazine to Rupert Murdock (or anyone else) is a grave blow to responsible journalism. Whether or not you like Geographic style (I happen to) The National Geographic Magazine has more or less steadfastly stood for integrity in what they publish. I expect to read scientifically sound articles without their having to conform to politically ideological criteria.

I seldom watch the NG TV channel, but when I have, I've been amazed at the amount of wading at the shallow end of the pool -- now I see why. Can it be very long before the magazine follows suit? Will we have a nudie cutie on the front of every issue as in some of his British publications? (Probably not)

Moving the odd pyramid(and the amazing number of people who wore red jackets in landscapes for a while in the '60s) aside, the Geographic has been good for photojournalism and I shudder to think what may be coming.

So don't worry about getting into trouble. Just keep telling it like it is.

For what it's worth, we have restrictions on media ownership here in Australia.
They're not as effective as you'd think, because in practice a media outlet that provides a product people want will inevitably sell better. Also in practice, there is a wide range in what people want, so the best way to become a successful media outlet is to include a range of views in your product (Our "The Australian" newspaper, for example, includes columnists with views ranging from committed socialism to about as far right as Australians get. Admittedly that's not very far.)
The end result of these factors is to leave us with a range of perspectives in our news and public affairs reporting, but with some legislated impediments to their ability to survive financially, a growing problem in our freshly globalising world economy.
The other issue for us, but probably not for you, is the massive dominance of our government-owned ABC, in the non-print media, but discussing that becomes very political, which is a bad idea on the world's best photography blog.

One thing I noticed about the article was the bit at the end about the Devil being a leader and God being more laid back. It was a joke, it made me smile, but I want to unpack that comment a bit. I don’t think you were breaking new ground in making that comment. It seems like a typical American viewpoint to me.

I suggest that most major religions in the USA would agree with the first part, that the Devil is always near at hand. Most major religions here would also agree that the best, safest way to contact God is to go through the bureaucracy. The religions only disagree about which bureaucracy one should go through! If you teach people that God is as near at hand, accessible, and as active as the Devil, they might start to wonder what they need the bureaucracy for.

Trying to bring this somewhat back on topic, certainly one legitimate, recognized goal of some photography is to get people to appreciate the divine aspects of the world. I’m not sure where I’m going with this: advocating saying a prayer before taking a photo or maybe teaching photography in Sunday School. :-)

Well, I thought it was funny.

I saw the precursor to this several years ago when I subscribed my daughter to National Geographic Kids.

When I was a kid, I had a subscription to National Geographic World, which was a terrific magazine - informative, detailed, talking to kids but not talking down to them.

I was utterly shocked at the issues of NGK we received before I cancelled the subscription. They were terrible. Every issue was some variation of "OMG SHARKS! LOOK AT FUNNY PHOTOSHOPPED ANIMALS! DID YOU KNOW KANGAROOS DON'T FART?"

So them formalizing their relationship with the devil? Not a surprise to me.

Thank you so much for that, Mike. I know that regular programming will be resumed, but I think this news is important -- and disquieting for democrats with a small "d", whatever your political position, as you reflected so well in your well written fantasy.

I live in England, where Murdoch has had huge influence through his tabloids. When, early in Margaret Thatcher's reign, he got his hands on the Times, he gutted the Sunday Times Magazine, which was the site which published so much of Don McCullin's powerful and revealing photography. He turned that publication from a source of knowledge into a lifestyle glossy. Good business for him? Maybe. Bad for public life and an informed public? Yep.

Know what's really depressing about this? It's one more nail in the coffin of genuine scientific exploration, as opposed to monetizing the planet.

National Geographic's foundation supplied funding to the recent spelunking expedition in South Africa that explored an astonishing new find involving scores of pre-human hominid remains that were apparently intentionally (ritually) interred by their fellow hominids in a deep cave. It promises to dramatically alter our perception of pre-Cro-Magnon hominid evolution.

Any guesses how likely a Murdoch-run NatGeo will be to fund something like this? Or something exploring climate change and its brutal implications?

I certainly agree that media monopolies are a bad idea. Thank God we don't have one. Usually, media monopolies are run by a government, as in the days of Pravda (Truth) and Ivestia (News) of which it was said, by Russians, "There is no truth in the News and no news in the Truth."

Rather than monopolies, we have many national news organizations operating out of different parts of the country, along with a multiplicity of local newspapers, plus, of course, radio, TV and the Internet. The internet brings in all kinds of foreign publications in English, from all over the political spectrum.

In view of this, it amazes me when somebody says "Fox" people say "monopoly," but when people say "Washington Post" -- owned by the guy who runs Amazon, one of the most vicious and predatory businesses in American history -- nobody says that.

It's a mystery.

You are just enough younger than I not to have experienced the day when the government could and did draft your ass to fight in a war that virtually everybody, including those who were running the war, knew was pointless, wrongheaded, and probably immoral. 60,000 Americans died doing that, and another 150,000 were wounded. No corporation ever put a gun to my head and said, "Buy an iPhone or I'll pull the trigger."

So, I'll take Apple, if I can just keep the government off my butt.

Well, you know what they say...... The devil made you do it :)

I can't see how the two will get on. Nat Geo always seemed to me to be fairly balanced. They're not climate change deniers surely, whereas I know Fox are rampant fracking fry the planet advocates, who care nothing for evidence. Blimey, don't they even have a good word for Palin "God put it there for us to burn". Utter fruit-cases.

I visited a school in the UK some years back and the library wall had shelves full of Nat Geos, in chronological order going back to the 30s. What a treasure. What a loss.

Mike, are you trolling us?

Are you seriously lamenting the ills of media concentration on TOP? On a publication/blog that did not exist a few years ago? That's rich.

It would seem to me that the internet has pretty much nullified any filtering power a media conglomerate may have. Of all people, I was kind of expecting you to be aware of that... In the 80s, before the evil Fox came to exist, did you ever imagine that you would one day produce, on your own, a publication that could reach millions as easily as a few thousands, for very little cash costs? I bet not.

There are more voices today than ever before and that is a boon for democracy. You may not like many of them, you may even regret that they exist, but that, I am afraid, says more about your commitment to democracy than you might like.

If that's getting yourself in trouble, you should probably get yourself in trouble more often.

I haven't followed all this NG stuff, but how did Murdoch manage to buy all the NG entities if they weren't for sale? If they were for sale why didn't someone else buy them?

William Albert Allard. Frans Lanting. Peter Essick. Paul Nicklen. REZA. Steve McCurry. Annie Griffiths. James Balog. George Steinmetz. John Stanmeyer. David Alan Harvey. David Doubilet. Alex Webb. Gerd Ludwig. Eugene Richards. Steve Winter. Michael “Nick” Nichols. Bruce Dale. James Blair. James Stanfield. Robert Sisson. George Mobley. Sam Abell.

The truth needs no ally.

But television does.

I concur with your views on the corporate model. We have conferred to corporations all the benefits of citizenship with very few of the constraints. The economic growth model, and it's infallible God - profits - is now king. Even the argument that there ought to be other means of consideration in relation to policy decision making regularly gets howled down. Plenty of examples in health, environment, social policy... just to name a few.The media empire you mention is a damn fine example. (Yeh, I know... we birthed him! Sincere apologies). In America we see the culmination of this increasingly powerful neo liberal agenda. From afar it looks increasingly ugly. Even in my historically progressive country, we have seen a wholesale embracing of the US model. In too many cases the very worst aspects. I fear we citizens are going to pay a very high price for our complacency. The chickens are set to come home to roost this century big time. It's not going to be pretty.

PS: A reading of the ISDS provisions in the proposed TPP agreement is instructive. Corporate power grabbing of the first order. It completely usurps even state sovereignty and established legal systems. Most citizens in this country have no idea. I am assuming yours are even less well informed.

Totally agree with your views on media control Mike. Totally shocked that anyone could be offended by your "Devil" skit too.

Are you aware that there was once a day when, in a time when certain businesses were regulated operated for what was called The Public Good, that the FCC, which grants licenses to over the air broadcasters (They are using the nation's air to broadcast at no charge) regulated who could own television and radio stations in a single market, and an entity that owned a newspaper in the same market couldn't own both radio and TV. This process was essentially dismantled by Reagan era Republicans that held the unfettered growth of capitalism as overall important. That's why the broadcasters are not as profitable as they once were, because the hurdles to ownership were severely lowered. Ironic, isn't it. now there are those who would want us to think that if all media in America were owned by Murdoch, it would be a better place. Be careful what you ask for.

keep up the good work!

You mean it was you all the time? Not the actual devil? Blasphemy works on both levels, you know.
Now let's see: if you commit blasphemy, the Devil (the Real One, not your mockery of a Murdoch-loving devil) will want to punish you. Trouble is, He can't send you to Hell. That would be like taking you at Home. He could send you to Purgatory, or even to Heaven (where there are no cameras to sample and own), but He'll do better than that: He'll turn you into a Donald Trump supporter.
All of a sudden Hell seems a lot cooler.

The minute I read your "devilish" post (which, by the way, I loved), I knew you´d get into trouble with some. The eternal editorial choice: play it safe and be mainstream (so you never offend anybody and lose readers only due to boredom), or be audacious enough to raise controversial and provocative issues (and lose a few readers in the process). You can´t please everybody, can you? I think you´ve earned your right to be outspoken here, in this private (and amusing) internet corner of yours...

Very rarely can any good come from these types of things. NatGeo was probably going down the rails of doom when they cut their internal photo staff and started freelancing photography services out (and BTW, their expectation was that they wanted YOU to bring THEM the story, how is that editorially cohesive? More like "running out of ideas").

When people start becoming a "brand management" company, that uses their name to sell more stuff and try and eke out more profit, rather than trying to do what they always did "better", then maybe it's just over instead of the beginning of a horrible death? I knew things were starting to smell funny when I saw NatGeo camera bags and travel goods. I have a friend who bought her kids a NatGo for kids subscription, and frankly she thought it was kind of "meh".

Everything has a "life", some things much longer than others. We've all seen U.S. sit-coms that go on for embarrassing years longer than they should, and meanwhile when the the Brits do something on the BBC, it usually has a story arc, and when it's done, it's over, and doesn't have to die a painful death. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing the Polaroid and Kodak brand on crap goods at discount big-box stores. Business people like to beat that dead horse for as many years as they can and eke out the last profit; long after that poor horses spirit is romping in the clouds with his pals.

I salute NatGeo for trying to try a different income paradigm years ago, to try and stay alive; but what they've created is now the beast that must be fed, and they will lose their soul, bit by bit, over the years; so slowly, that when they wake up in the future, as some permutation of Fox news, few will remember how it happened.

BTW, I didn't get the moniker "Crabby Umbo", by being afraid to put 25 cents in the truth machine. People may take exception to your opinion, but never be afraid to express it: over my lifetime, I've had many more opportunites to say "I told you so", than eat crow!

I agree with you about corporatism. For those who think it's good, just ponder what TOP might be like if owned by Murdoch. This essay would never have seen the light of day.

My political and economic views may seep out here, but my guess is that this sale may leave a welcome vacuum. If enough of the masses are pining for what the National Geographic once was (which I believe is true), someone will fill that void with a new entity catering to that want. It will be better and more modern than the National Geographic that you describe - basically a shadow of its former self. Sometimes old trees need to fall in order to make way for newer trees.

Polar Bears-

"And just to complete the symmetry of this story, I actually found him polite, reasonable, approachable, grounded, intelligent, honest, loyal, fair, and even on occasions exceptionally considerate and understanding!"

Sorry, but is what you do that defines you. And the actions of Murdoch speaks not so good for him (to put it blandly)...

polite, reasonable, approachable, grounded, intelligent, honest, loyal, fair...

Not necessarily epithets one would immediately associate with some of his media properties, though...

Contrary to what some may think, there are regulations, in the US, limiting media ownership under certain conditions. The problem is that the Devil has managed to get around them through a little help from his friends. The instance that comes readily to mind was some years back when he wanted to buy some properties but was prevented from doing so by the fact that he was not a US citizen. But then, guess what? He became a US citizen virtually overnight and the deal was done. Guess the people waiting patiently on line to become citizens didn't make donations to the right politicians.
Your piece on the Devil was great; too bad (for them)that it ruffled someone's religious feathers.

Dear Gary,

"Please allow me to introduce myself,
I'm a man of wealth and taste..."

It might be you who falls into the wholesale compartmentalization trap. I don't recall anyone here saying that he beats small children and eats puppies for breakfast. He may, on the personal level, be an utterly charming and delightful person.

It is irrelevant to the harm his corporate self does.

pax / Ctein

Since this sale was announced, parody mock-ups of National Geographic covers have abounded on the Web, featuring joke headlines such as "Global Warming - The Hoax Revealed". Some serious commentators have expressed hope that the editorial position of NG properties will remain mostly unchanged with regard to environmental issues. Well, hold on to your hats, because it looks as though such a change has already begun:



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