There They Go Again

unemployment

About two weeks ago, seven more people were laid off at NGS — this time in the Maps division. Most of these folks have worked at NGS for more than 20 years.

Technically speaking, the seven jobs were eliminated — the positions no longer exist — hence the layoffs. Yet management promptly created four new positions in Maps, and invited the seven castoffs to reapply for their old jobs.

Very classy.

  • I.M. Bashful

    Cartography, once an important and vital part of NGS, is disappearing. NG Maps, formerly known as the Cartographic Division (founded in 1915 and the Society’s first division), once staffed over 100 people. How could this division be reduced to less than 20 in the DC office? (They also have an office in Evergreen, Colorado.) What happened to the Society’s mission to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge? Isn’t teaching geography a huge part of what was once NGS? The NG magazine’s pull-out maps have become fewer, smaller, and less informative over time. NG Maps is no longer listed on the magazine’s masthead. National Geographic maps, made in-house and used by our own government in times of war, are now often created by outside companies! Meanwhile, loyal and dedicated staffers who have been employed for more than 25 years are losing their jobs. NGS tells the public that geography is important, yet within the halls of the Society, this historic division is no longer vital.

    • Dear Bashful-

      I feel your pain. I really do. But I imagine management’s response would be: That was then, this is now. And, in part, I would agree: Just because the Maps division employed 100 people many years ago doesn’t necessarily mean they need 100 people today. And since NGS is ill-equipped to compete against all sorts of online mapping services (ie Google Maps), the game is ending.

      As for teaching geography — the Society’s attempt to redefine geography began decades ago. (See: the Geography Education Program.) In the process, the discipline became so big, diffuse, and incoherent that maps, I think, were marginalized. The whole Geography—More Than Maps mantra was an attempt to reposition the discipline — and the organization — that was too cute for its own good.

      But I think you’re on to something with your comment about “maps… used by our own government in times war….” You’re focusing more on the “National” and less on the “Geographic,” which, in my opinion, is spot on. Problem is, talking about nations and national allegiance is awkward when the CEO wants NG to be an international media company. Go global, and the rules change — and not for the better.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Bashful. And keep the faith.

  • I.M. Bashful

    Cartography, once an important and vital part of NGS, is disappearing. NG Maps, formerly known as the Cartographic Division (founded in 1915 and the Society’s first division), once staffed over 100 people. How could this division be reduced to less than 20 in the DC office? (They also have an office in Evergreen, Colorado.) What happened to the Society’s mission to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge? Isn’t teaching geography a huge part of what was once NGS? The NG magazine’s pull-out maps have become fewer, smaller, and less informative over time. NG Maps is no longer listed on the magazine’s masthead. National Geographic maps, made in-house and used by our own government in times of war, are now often created by outside companies! Meanwhile, loyal and dedicated staffers who have been employed for more than 25 years are losing their jobs. NGS tells the public that geography is important, yet within the halls of the Society, this historic division is no longer vital.

    • Dear Bashful-

      I feel your pain. I really do. But I imagine management’s response would be: That was then, this is now. And, in part, I would agree: Just because the Maps division employed 100 people many years ago doesn’t necessarily mean they need 100 people today. And since NGS is ill-equipped to compete against all sorts of online mapping services (ie Google Maps), the game is ending.

      As for teaching geography — the Society’s attempt to redefine geography began decades ago. (See: the Geography Education Program.) In the process, the discipline became so big, diffuse, and incoherent that maps, I think, were marginalized. The whole Geography—More Than Maps mantra was an attempt to reposition the discipline — and the organization — that was too cute for its own good.

      But I think you’re on to something with your comment about “maps… used by our own government in times war….” You’re focusing more on the “National” and less on the “Geographic,” which, in my opinion, is spot on. Problem is, talking about nations and national allegiance is awkward when the CEO wants NG to be an international media company. Go global, and the rules change — and not for the better.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Bashful. And keep the faith.

  • Carto Joe

    Every map company needs many fewer people than they did years ago due to technology. Even before the output of the Maps division was reduced, the number of people was significantly reduced due to automation. Also remember that there are two other cartography groups at NG. The Book division has its own group (3 people?) and The Magazine carved the people who make page maps out of the Map division about 3 years ago (9 people at the time). I.M. is right that the number of supplements has slimmed from 6 a few years ago to 2. And over time they have had less cartography and been more poster-like, often being produced more by the art department than the Maps division. I don’t know whether this reduction has been a smart cost-saving move or a dagger in the heart. But the fact that each supplement costs $500,000 to print, plus probably $200,000 in creative is nothing to sneeze at, and perhaps the reader surveys indicated they don’t matter so much anymore. Of course, that could be a self-fulfilling response as over the years they became less maps and more super size edit. For those not familiar with what NG maps were historically, you can view most of the supplements prior to 2000 at http://www.ngmapcollection.com. Yes, they used to be just maps. As to outsourcing, the Maps division has used outsource services for at least 15 years and probably longer. Other divisions as well as Traveler and Adventure have sourced a lot of their maps out of house for years. The fact is that map production is less an art and more of a technical skill now, and there are many cartographic production companies and freelancers who can do a fine job. What still defines NG maps is design and editorial, and those functions are still fully inhouse as regards maps produced by the Map division. It’s worth noting that the Map group in DC produced more new wall maps in 2009 than any year in the history of the company. Go to http://www.natgeomaps.com and click on wall maps. Since the National Geographic Maps business unit was created as part of Ventures in the 90s, it depended mostly on supplements for content to publish for consumer purchase, mostly through retail and online stores. Since the supplements became fewer and the content less “mappy,” they had to create new maps as part of their business operation. The most successful of these were new designs of world maps created in 2001. But last year they added a couple dozen new titles. So while there are reasonable concerns over the lessened stature of the Map division and the loss of talented, dedicated people recently, there is a lot going on with maps at NG.

  • Carto Joe

    Every map company needs many fewer people than they did years ago due to technology. Even before the output of the Maps division was reduced, the number of people was significantly reduced due to automation. Also remember that there are two other cartography groups at NG. The Book division has its own group (3 people?) and The Magazine carved the people who make page maps out of the Map division about 3 years ago (9 people at the time). I.M. is right that the number of supplements has slimmed from 6 a few years ago to 2. And over time they have had less cartography and been more poster-like, often being produced more by the art department than the Maps division. I don’t know whether this reduction has been a smart cost-saving move or a dagger in the heart. But the fact that each supplement costs $500,000 to print, plus probably $200,000 in creative is nothing to sneeze at, and perhaps the reader surveys indicated they don’t matter so much anymore. Of course, that could be a self-fulfilling response as over the years they became less maps and more super size edit. For those not familiar with what NG maps were historically, you can view most of the supplements prior to 2000 at http://www.ngmapcollection.com. Yes, they used to be just maps. As to outsourcing, the Maps division has used outsource services for at least 15 years and probably longer. Other divisions as well as Traveler and Adventure have sourced a lot of their maps out of house for years. The fact is that map production is less an art and more of a technical skill now, and there are many cartographic production companies and freelancers who can do a fine job. What still defines NG maps is design and editorial, and those functions are still fully inhouse as regards maps produced by the Map division. It’s worth noting that the Map group in DC produced more new wall maps in 2009 than any year in the history of the company. Go to http://www.natgeomaps.com and click on wall maps. Since the National Geographic Maps business unit was created as part of Ventures in the 90s, it depended mostly on supplements for content to publish for consumer purchase, mostly through retail and online stores. Since the supplements became fewer and the content less “mappy,” they had to create new maps as part of their business operation. The most successful of these were new designs of world maps created in 2001. But last year they added a couple dozen new titles. So while there are reasonable concerns over the lessened stature of the Map division and the loss of talented, dedicated people recently, there is a lot going on with maps at NG.

  • David Jeffery

    “Bashful” and “Carto Joe” both score excellent points provide keen insights. Just as the long-gone Esso [Standard Oil] road maps were once the gold standard for clear, useful cartography, so were NG maps. After I had worked on the “Historical Atlas of the United States” for two years (186-1988), friends in Cartographic were kind enough to give me a copy of a map of metropolitan D.C. done by the division in the [?] 1940s. That was art; that was cartography! Hell, that was even romance! Tom Gray’s famous dictum: “The art is in the accuracy” was true enough but not all of the truth.

    Odd to remember now that in about my 7th grade year a friend and I were absorbed with inventing true maps of imaginary ports, cities, and regions. Maybe that was my pre-teen Ur experience with maps and ignited the lingering fascination. It remains.

    The hell with Garmin; praise Cartographic!

  • David Jeffery

    “Bashful” and “Carto Joe” both score excellent points provide keen insights. Just as the long-gone Esso [Standard Oil] road maps were once the gold standard for clear, useful cartography, so were NG maps. After I had worked on the “Historical Atlas of the United States” for two years (186-1988), friends in Cartographic were kind enough to give me a copy of a map of metropolitan D.C. done by the division in the [?] 1940s. That was art; that was cartography! Hell, that was even romance! Tom Gray’s famous dictum: “The art is in the accuracy” was true enough but not all of the truth.

    Odd to remember now that in about my 7th grade year a friend and I were absorbed with inventing true maps of imaginary ports, cities, and regions. Maybe that was my pre-teen Ur experience with maps and ignited the lingering fascination. It remains.

    The hell with Garmin; praise Cartographic!

  • Therese

    In the early days of NGS, maps were contracted out. But the Society realized the importance of having their own mapping staff and having a style of their own (several NGS employees created fonts and even projections). They could control the product and there would be a uniform look—people could easily recognize a map made by NGS. Maps were treated as a science and for telling as much information as they could. Now, on the pullouts and the maps on the magazine pages, one finds inconsistency, vague information, and more concern with the look than the content.

    I cannot imagine reader surveys say members are not interested in maps. Maps are often used as freebies to get people to become members, obviously a positive selling point otherwise it wouldn’t be done. Most of the people I know value the maps and have noticed a difference in them over the past five or six years. I know people who have cancelled their membership due to the lack and quality of pullout maps, and because of all the advertising among the pages of each issue..

    You stated that “there are many cartographic production companies and freelancers who can do a fine job.” So you are saying that contractors, freelancers, and other cartographic firms can do just as good a job as experienced NG Maps staff; that one of the world’s top cartographic firms is no better than any other company?

    You mention that Traveler and Adventure magazines have outsourced their maps for years. Why isn’t NG Maps making their maps? Why isn’t there just one division that makes all the maps for the Society?

    About your statement that “What still defines NG Maps is design and editorial, and those functions are still fully inhouse [sic] as regards [sic]maps produced by the Map division.” Not all design and editorial aspects of the map process are done in-house anymore. Many of the products with the NG name have design and editorial content coming from the outside (domestic and foreign).

    You say that “the Map group in DC produced more new wall maps in 2009 than any year in the history of the company,” “they added a couple dozen new titles,” and “there is a lot going on with maps at NG.” If these statements are correct, why were several employees let go? What exactly do the sales figures say? Are the wall maps and new titles selling? One can have many products on the shelves but if they don’t sell, you’ve got a problem.

    The original poster commented on the culture at NGS. Long-time, dedicated staff is pushed aside. This is a far cry from how they used to be treated. NGS used to be different and that is what once made them special.

    In short, the National Geographic Society is known primarily for photography and cartography. The division that built its world-renowned reputation on making maps (from concept to delivery to a printer) should not be outsourcing.

  • Therese

    In the early days of NGS, maps were contracted out. But the Society realized the importance of having their own mapping staff and having a style of their own (several NGS employees created fonts and even projections). They could control the product and there would be a uniform look—people could easily recognize a map made by NGS. Maps were treated as a science and for telling as much information as they could. Now, on the pullouts and the maps on the magazine pages, one finds inconsistency, vague information, and more concern with the look than the content.

    I cannot imagine reader surveys say members are not interested in maps. Maps are often used as freebies to get people to become members, obviously a positive selling point otherwise it wouldn’t be done. Most of the people I know value the maps and have noticed a difference in them over the past five or six years. I know people who have cancelled their membership due to the lack and quality of pullout maps, and because of all the advertising among the pages of each issue..

    You stated that “there are many cartographic production companies and freelancers who can do a fine job.” So you are saying that contractors, freelancers, and other cartographic firms can do just as good a job as experienced NG Maps staff; that one of the world’s top cartographic firms is no better than any other company?

    You mention that Traveler and Adventure magazines have outsourced their maps for years. Why isn’t NG Maps making their maps? Why isn’t there just one division that makes all the maps for the Society?

    About your statement that “What still defines NG Maps is design and editorial, and those functions are still fully inhouse [sic] as regards [sic]maps produced by the Map division.” Not all design and editorial aspects of the map process are done in-house anymore. Many of the products with the NG name have design and editorial content coming from the outside (domestic and foreign).

    You say that “the Map group in DC produced more new wall maps in 2009 than any year in the history of the company,” “they added a couple dozen new titles,” and “there is a lot going on with maps at NG.” If these statements are correct, why were several employees let go? What exactly do the sales figures say? Are the wall maps and new titles selling? One can have many products on the shelves but if they don’t sell, you’ve got a problem.

    The original poster commented on the culture at NGS. Long-time, dedicated staff is pushed aside. This is a far cry from how they used to be treated. NGS used to be different and that is what once made them special.

    In short, the National Geographic Society is known primarily for photography and cartography. The division that built its world-renowned reputation on making maps (from concept to delivery to a printer) should not be outsourcing.

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