Membership & the future of journalism

Back in 2006, I asked John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of National Geographic, this question:

Q: Does the word “Society” have any value to you when you market National Geographic? Or is the word just a vestige from the old days that gets in the way?

John Fahey: It mostly gets in the way. Nobody wants to belong to anything….

I respectfully disagreed with John back then. And to his credit, John is beginning to come around. (See this post about Mission 2015.)

For more evidence that building the Society’s membership should be priority #1, consider this piece, posted yesterday, from Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab:

Read the whole thing here

  • j

    amy maniatas and her team-which includes robert micheal murray-are working on a multimillion dollar membership program, which will as i understand it include a massive advertorial campaign. apparently they are still working out how it will function, what the point is and probably sucking up to some famous folks right now. i imagine they will roll it out next year in honor of the 125th anniversary. in the mean time, they continue to restructure people out. not the top people mind you, as in john fahey, terry adamson, terry garcia, betty hudson, tim kelly, john caldwell, chris johns and tony sablo-the people who’s names appear on the mast head-but the innovators and the hard workers under their underlings. they are going to look for naming opportunities for the buildings as they need donors to pay for the renovations. they have no means of measuring success beyond dollars and press hits.

    • Well, J, I must admit I applaud any effort to beef up the Society’s membership — although I hate seeing it done on the backs of the employees. That said, there are two huge hurdles any membership campaign will need to overcome….

      1. What’s the point (as you mentioned) — that is, what’s the value added? If it’s just a discount to get you better deals on stuff in the catalog, the membership campaign will fail miserably.

      2. The Channel: If you became a member of The New York Times, there’s not much ambiguity about the type of organization you’re joining. The “brand promise,” as they say, is relatively clear. But what exactly — or who — are you teaming up with if you join NGS? The generally good vibe that’s still projected by the Magazine? Or the sleazy prime-time dreck coughed up by the Channel?

      NG’s entire media strategy has long been built around the idea that you can see in the brand whatever you wanted, and have the NG “brand experience” with whatever products you chose: a book, a magazine, a sweatshirt, a wristwatch, air freshener, and lots more. The problem now is that when you flash your shiny new NGS membership card, you’re relying NOT on your personal brand definition, but on what the perception of the brand is among the general public. And now, thanks to the Magic of Murdoch, that perception is eroding by the day.

      Put another way: John Fahey may have suddenly awakened to the (business) value of having people belong to the Society, but he might have undercut himself by teaming up with a company like News Corp.

      Thanks for your note & your update… and please keep me posted.

    • Guest


      Many of us at NGS feel the same frustration and pain you do. Not only do top execs need to be “restructured out,” but many senior vps, vps, and directors need to go too. But alas, as you say, the hard workers are the ones who are let go. In their place — inexperienced and untrained interns. Take a look at the job board. The month of August was so full of internships, it was frightful. Totally agree about them having no means of measuring success beyond dollars and press hits. Such a shame.

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