RIP: Society Matters (2009-2014)

After more than four years of reporting and writing here at Society Matters — about the future of journalism, and about the past, present, and future of the National Geographic Society — this post will be my last one. Here’s why…


On November 11, 2013 — one day after I published a post called “Why did Chris Johns kill the Egypt story?” — Terry Adamson, Chief Legal Officer at the National Geographic Society, sent me a letter (via email and next-day courier), with cc’s to John Fahey, Chairman of NGS, and Tony Sablo, head of National Geographic’s Human Resources division. In the letter, Terry expressed his… well, let’s just say “some concerns.” I responded to Terry (and John & Tony) via email… received another letter from Terry… and later talked to Terry and Tony on the phone. Then I hired a lawyer — a friend who runs a small law practice in Silver Spring, Maryland.

On December 10, 2013, my lawyer sent a reply to Terry. Here’s how it concluded: “Alan and I would be willing to meet with you to discuss how we can establish some specific guidelines that might help us avoid any future misunderstandings…. Our goal is to find a mutually agreeable and constructive way to move forward, and to help NGS survive and thrive in the months and years to come.”

On January 17, 2014, we received a reply from attorney David Hensler, a partner at Hogan Lovells, a law firm with more than 2,500 attorneys operating out of more than 40 offices in the United States, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia. According to the Hogan Lovells website:

David [Hensler] was described as “the city’s commercial litigator par excellence” in a Legal Times article titled “Identifying 20 Leading Litigators.” David was also described as “a 24-carat commercial litigator” and was ranked No. 1 for General Commercial Litigation in Washington, D.C. in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business Litigation. David is also listed as a leading Commercial Litigator in The Best Lawyers in America and Chambers Global—The World’s Leading Lawyers for Business.

Dear John Fahey: Message received.


Before I say good-bye, a few thank yous:

The Final Word goes to NGS Chairman John Fahey:  


I couldn’t agree more.

all the best,

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

What happens when a Society has “no agenda“?

Rupert Murdoch laughs

John Fahey National Geographic

“Pandering to the fears that divide us…”

John Fahey, Chairman of the National Geographic Society, is the architect of the organization’s two-pronged brand strategy: the good works of the Society — the Magazine, Mission programs, the education programs, and more, all of which cost a lot of money — would be subsidized by the tabloid trash on the National Geographic Channel (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation). John’s assumption: The Quality would not get infected by The Sleaze.

Here at Society Matters, we’ve argued that John’s assumption was, and remains, fatally flawed. We believe that “you can’t promote wisdom with your right hand and champion ignorance with your left.” If you need more proof, here’s an incisive and eloquent letter of resignation from a longtime member of NGS:

1325 Waterford Drive
East Greenwich RI 02818
25 October 2013

Mr. Gary Knell
President and CEO
National Geographic
1145 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Mr. Knell,

I wanted to write and let you know that this edition will be the last in my subscription to National Geographic Magazine. My grandparents were subscribers, as were my parents, and I have been a subscriber for more than 20 years. Over the course of those years, I have loved the world that the magazine opened up before me through its stunning photos and well researched articles. I learned much about the history, beauty and fragility of our planet and all its peoples.

However, I can no longer support an organization that has strayed so far from its original mission. One of the main faces of the National Geographic brand is now the TV channel which perpetuates the worst kind of sensationalist shows. Programs like Doomsday Preppers, Doomsday Castle and the new American Blackout encourage suspicion, fear, and violence. These are the anthesis [sic] of the original National Geographic values of encouraging knowledge, understanding, and illustrating our common humanity.

I urge you not to abandon the original vision and values of National Geographic and to rethink the current strategy. There is a great need for informative, researched, thoughtful programs about our natural world and the lives and hopes of people all around the globe. Please find it in your heart and conscious [sic] not to pander to the fears that divide us but the hopes and goals that unite us. Maybe then my children will be able to become subscribers too (digital ones of course).

Sincerely yours,


Chris Perrett (Mrs.)

cc: Mr. John Fahey, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
National Geographic Magazine Letter to the Editor




That was fast


{ Read the whole thing here. }

Actually, it looks like Mr. Lively completed his work in a little more than 12 months:

So, to sum up: Mr. Lively has evidently raised boatloads of money in a soft economy during a capital campaign that he originally believed would last two or three years (and he’s a fundraising veteran), yet his “mission” is “accomplished” in only one year. Also, he raised all that money (sum not specified) with virtually no public recognition thus far of the huge gifts National Geographic must be receiving from generous philanthropists.

That’s amazing – and a powerful testament to Mr. Lively’s prodigious talents, John Fahey’s clear vision, and the wonderful reputation that the National Geographic Society still seems to enjoy.

Congratulations to the whole team!

(P.S. I wonder what it’s like to fundraise for an organization where Rupert Murdoch is such a towering financial presence.)


Update, 19 October 2013

From The Dallas Morning News, 7 April 2012:


Left Hand, meet Right Hand

Can-National-Geographic-Rescue-LegacyRead the whole thing here.


Please see: 6 easy steps to making big money in media

John Fahey National Geographic

“Unleashing ‘National Geographic’ Style Violence”

Redefining The Brand (cont’d)…

Read the whole thing here

Rupert Murdoch laughs

John Fahey National Geographic


“Pay up or die”

National Geographic’s mission:
To inspire people to care about the planet.


Rupert Murdoch laughs

John Fahey National Geographic

Four million and falling fast

Circulation of National Geographic magazine (NGM) is about to fall below 4 million for the first time in generations. And while many print magazines are struggling, National Geographic is struggling more than most: Of the top 25 U.S. consumer magazines, only Reader’s Digest suffered a larger percentage circulation drop than did NGM for the year ending June 30, 2013:


So how does Chris Johns, Editor of National Geographic, talk about the magazine when he’s in public? What do you say when your ship has a gaping hole in its hull and the entire world can see that you’re sinking?

Yes, of course. There’s digital. Digital storytelling that’s exciting and engaging, cross-generational and multi-pronged — all delivered via our critically acclaimed National Geographic iPad app… right?


In other words: the web.

But since few, if any, publishers have figured out how to make money on the web, our Society is now financially dependent on this guy:

Rupert Murdoch laughs

{ The Society’s key financial numbers are here. }

John Fahey National Geographic

Growing the Murdoch Way

The gentleman’s question clearly piques the interest
of John Fahey, Chairman of the National Geographic Society.
But John makes no attempt to answer it.

Then again, maybe there’s no need.
After all, John led the National Geographic Society into a “partnership”
with one of the biggest media growth machines in the world:

{Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel.}

What does Rupert Murdoch do with the money he makes
by leveraging the good name of National Geographic?

He exerts his political influence.
Which means he does stuff like this:


September 15, 2013

Does that mean the National Geographic Society
is helping climate deniers like Murdoch
confuse the public and muddy the waters?

Does it mean that National Geographic
is putting money in the pocket
of a media mogul who is pro-fracking,
who disparages environmentalists as “greenies,”
and who is unabashedly pro-growth?

It sure does.


(I think he means “fracking,” not “tracking.”)

Dear John,
How long do you think this game can go on?

John Fahey National Geographic

Dear John: Why is a “violent insurrectionist” the star of an upcoming show on the National Geographic Channel?

See update (below)

Meet James Yeager. According to a news report, he’s the star of an upcoming episode of Doomsday Preppers, which is now one of the most profitable shows on the National Geographic Channel:

This is the campaign run by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which is trying to persuade National Geographic to cancel the Doomsday Preppers episode featuring “violent insurrectionist” James Yeager:


This is David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel:

David Lyle

David Lyle

This is Rupert Murdoch:

Rupert Murdoch laughs

This is John Fahey, Chairman of the Board of the National Geographic Society:

John Fahey National Geographic

It’s worth remembering that John Fahey has the authority to unilaterally kill shows on the Channel if he considers them inappropriate for the National Geographic Society. At least that’s what John said last year to a national radio audience.

So, what do you think, John? Does this episode of Doomsday Preppers deserve to be cancelled? If so, when? If not, why not?


Update, 20 September 2013 @ 10pm

From the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence:

UPDATE: On September 19, 2013, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence was sent the following statement by Chris Albert, a Senior Vice President for Communications and Talent Relations with National Geographic Channels:

“Doomsday Preppers documents many individuals from across the country with unique beliefs and practices as they prepare (legally) to protect themselves and their families from various disaster scenarios. Given recent events such as Hurricane Sandy and the flooding in Colorado, this program is also a valuable platform for presenting survival tips to our viewers, and we regret that any potential interview has clouded the important work this show does. With more than 600 hours in production at any given time, we give our producers the liberty to conduct hundreds of interviews for programming on our behalf, including for this series. [James Yeager] was approached by our production company for participation in the upcoming season of Doomsday Preppers. However, after being made aware of the interview and consulting with the producers, National Geographic Channel does not believe that he fits with the show or the network, and we do not plan to air his interview in the series.”

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