Dear Robert: We tried.


{ You can’t make this stuff up. }

  • Joe Smith

    Unless you’ve been pounding him with DQs this seems so wrong.

    • It’s wrong if you believe that “social media” means joining the conversation… the two-way… interacting and discussing… and seeing people as part of an extended online community.

      But it makes perfect sense if you think social media is about “turning social fans into customers and brand ambassadors.

      • T. Flynn

        Sometimes I think you’re living in an alternate world and then just realize you’re trying to bait people. Alan, people see how you treat others on Twitter, including Mr. Murray (I would block you). They see how you troll your own blog to create confrontation.

        Just wondering, if you two don’t talk how do you know what he thinks? Or that he sees the world differently? Have you even met him in person? You have a habit of painting people however you want regardless of whether it’s them or not.

        • T – Please go through my timeline and show me one tweet that I ever sent to Robert that was unreasonable. And by “trolling [my] own blog” — you mean what, exactly? I posted this item because it’s absurd that the VP for Social Media at National Geographic blocks someone who is interested in the future of National Geographic.

          Yes, I have met Robert in person. Twice. When he started working at NGS, I had breakfast with him in Bethesda. I told him what I knew about NGS, and the many opportunities that lay ahead, as well as the challenges that he was about to confront. He was extremely gracious, and promised to keep in touch.

          Many months later, I approached him after a presentation he gave as part of a panel discussion in the NGS auditorium. With my video camera in hand, I walked up to see him after the session was over — effectively continuing the Q&A which had just ended. Robert refused to speak to me — even though he had just spoken to an auditorium full of people. I asked him a few questions, but Robert just referred me to NG Communications. That struck me as odd, especially because he appeared on stage to answer questions, in public. But my questions? No, he wasn’t interested.

          Do I know what Robert thinks? Of course not. I can’t read his mind. But we can all see what he does, and without more information (which I’d welcome), I’m stuck with the assumption that how he acts is a rough reflection of what he thinks.

          Here’s the bottom line, T. Where is Robert? He’s the VP for Social Media, and he has no blog… he shares nothing from his various appearances before private groups…. his Twitter feed tells you virtually nothing about his approach to social media and his vision for social media at NGS.

          Frankly, I feel sort of sorry for Robert. I think his intentions are good. I think he really wants to “explore the intersection of culture, technology, and human rights” (as he says in his Twitter profile). But he was hired, and then told to get Facebook fans and market cheetah videos. His mission is to turn “social fans into customers and brand ambassadors.” Which is precisely what I warned him about at that breakfast in Bethesda.

          Robert blocking me is no different than John Fahey inviting me to see him, and then rescinding the invitation. I have questions, all of them fair and reasonable ones about what’s happening to NGS. Robert doesn’t want to answer them, and why should he? John Fahey isn’t on Twitter, but he’s blocking me too.

          Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

          • T. Flynn

            Despite the lengthy reply Alan, the fact remains they don’t have to engage you. Mr. Murray does not have to answer your questions. Mr. Fahey can change his mind. You may not like it. It might not even be right. But at the end of the day neither of them are obligated to engage you in anyway. Yet you seem to honestly believe you’re entitled otherwise. Seems there will always be a disconnect.

          • Yup, you’re right. John & Robert are under no obligation to speak to me. But I don’t feel “entitled.” I just believe the questions I’ve raised need to be addressed if NGS is to have any hope of solving the problems that are eroding the organization’s foundation.

            I can’t imagine how a revenue stream that’s drying up (see 990s I posted recently) and money from a media entity we don’t control (see Murdoch’s channel) gives anyone confidence in the Society’s future.

  • Jan Adkins


    When I go through this “exchange” (wherein no exchange of ideas or even civility took place), what appears most of all is fear. It’s a corporate fear and a profit-driven disregard for common sense or ethical behavior that seeps from MBA suits in a boardroom to infect layers of administration. Fear should be especially unwelcome in a Society built on exploration and revelation, art and science. I think of Tom Abercrombie traveling in the Empty Quarter of the Arabian desert or sprinting across a bridge in Lebanon under sniper fire to file a story. Fear wasn’t Tom’s professional priority but today’s Society has nudged it up and up.

    You’re right: poor Robert; he can’t be comfortable or secure being stuffed into a rodent-hole of denial. We wonder just how paranoid the Society has become to “own” the discourse of a relatively minor flack, assigned to lure customers through the keyhole of an unfamiliar cashflow conduit.

    We should spare a concern for you, too, Alan. You’ve placed yourself firmly on a Nixonian “enemies” list. How upsetting. You love the Society; it’s obvious to all your colleagues outside the official yellow borders. It’s especially galling because you offer something of enormous value to John Fahey and Band: you and your own troupe of expatriates gives, without any thought of personal gain, the genuine article of “loyal opposition,” a separate and dissenting perspective that might help the Society to navigate a tough, unscouted road to the future.

    When I was within the yellow borders, I described Geographic’s approach to journalism and art as “the feathers at the back of the arrow.” We weren’t hip, not avant garde, not even cutting-edge. We embodied the best of a slightly older age, and our hold on that excellence gave the arrow of art and journalism a spin and a stability. We improved the future by embodying the best of the past. You are now in the useful – but obviously underappreciated – position of Society tailfeathers. By speaking for past ideals you’re encouraging the board to adjust their navigation a bit. It’s a great service.

    But when fear is your primary observance, you can’t hear criticism as anything but an attempt to blame, enlarge errors, and diminish character. John and his Nixonian platoon have circled up the corporate wagons and any word of suggestion from outside the wagons (and probably from any dissenting inner voices as well) can only be disrespectful and an attack on the administrators.

    Fie. The administrators never had much to do with the quality of the magazine, anyway. The people in the field brought home the bacon, and the phenomenally skillful workers at HQ shaped the raw material into magical stories.

    Perhaps all of our concern should be for those field and HQ workers. It’s their work we love most, and their encouragement we want to reinforce. Your generous offer of extramural editorship is poorly and cynically and ungraciously received, Alan. They can’t hear you beyond the barricades. Humor, generosity, honesty and tradition are in short supply when fear takes over.


    • Guest

      Well said.

  • Spade a spade

    I think you lost the ability to have access to RM and others at NG for that matter when you take stalking to another level (and try to call it journalism).

    • No, I’m afraid you’re wrong on this one, Spade. For instance, I lost access to John Fahey NOT because I was stalking him. In fact, I almost never bother to try and contact him. … Back in 2009, John invited me to his office to visit him & chat about this site, but he later rescinded his invitation. Why? Because he understands what questions I want to ask him, and he doesn’t have any interest in answering them. That’s his right, of course. But my lack of access has absolutely nothing to do with stalking. It’s all about the substance.

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.