Opportunity Awaits

As it ponders a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google, the executives at Groupon are nervous, says Mr. Vacanti, because…

“[T]he brands of these [old] media companies, while not having deal authority, do have product and service authority. They’ve been telling their audience how to spend their money for years. For example, you are much more likely to trust a golf magazine’s recommendation of a specific golf course outing than Groupon’s recommendation. Plus a golf course would rather be recommended by a golf magazine than Groupon.

These large, old media companies with millions of users and strong brands will create real competition for Groupon.”

Put another way: Imagine you want to buy a new digital camera — say, a Nikon D3000. Would you rather buy the camera via Groupon, which might find you a bargain price but which doesn’t know diddly about photography. OR, would you rather buy the camera via National Geographic, which has millions of existing members (“collective buying power”) and which could contribute its photographic expertise to the transaction. Plus, once you buy the camera, you’d have the technical and creative support of thousands of other photography enthusiasts who made the same purchase, and who you’d be able to contact via National Geographic’s robust online network (which exists only in our imagination).

Buying the camera is only the beginning, of course. The real benefits to the Society would come when people started taking pictures and making videos — and sharing them. But to realize these benefits, John Fahey needs to stop chasing advertisers, and start catering to the Society’s real — but rapidly vanishing — power base: NGS members.

We floated this idea when we first launched Society Matters 18 months ago, and we were planning to ask John about it — but he recently rescinded his long-standing invitation to stop by his office for a visit. Why the cold shoulder? We’re not exactly sure. We have many more great ideas that we’d love to share, and that we’re confident could help our Society.

John rarely, if ever, gives interviews.
But we’re asking for one, partly to explore this idea.
If you think John should join us for an extended Q&A,
then please click “Recommend,” below.

Don’t have a Facebook account? Or prefer not to show your face? That’s okay.
Just email me — alan [at] societymatters [dot] org — and
I’ll raise our Anonymous But Curious tally by one.
(It’s under the Facebook widget in the right sidebar.)

John Fahey & His Lunchtime Spin

National Geographic Society CEO John Fahey (left), pictured with Cole Ingraham, has a long-standing invitation for his employees to join him for a lunchtime bike ride.

The good news: John Fahey actually talked to a reporter.

He didn’t say much, but still — it’s a start.


“What happens is I find out sort of what the scuttlebutt
in the hallways is,” John tells NPR. “And sometimes
it’s totally ill informed , and sometimes it’s spot on.
But it’s really good to know what people think.”


We agree: It’s really good to know what people think.
Question is: What do you think, John?

John rarely, if ever, gives interviews.
But we’re asking for one — and you can help by clicking “Recommend,” below.

Don’t have a Facebook account? Or prefer not to show your face? That’s okay.
Just email me — alan [at] societymatters [dot] org — and
I’ll raise our Anonymous But Curious tally by one.
(It’s under the Facebook widget in the right sidebar.)

≡  photo by Zac Visco via NPR

Rick Sanchez, Juan Williams… & Zahi Hawass

Something isn’t quite right here…


Rick Sanchez

Pete Dominick (host): [Jon] Stewart’s a minority as much as you are. He’s Jewish.

Rick Sanchez: Yeah. Yeah. Very powerless people. Please. What are you, kidding?

Dominick: You’re telling me that….

Sanchez: I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart. And to imply that somehow they – the people in this country who are Jewish – are an oppressed minority? Yeah.   (source: The Guardian)

Rick Sanchez was recently fired by CNN.


Juan Williams


“If I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”  (source: TIME)

Juan Williams was recently fired by NPR.


Dr. Zahi Hawass

“It seems that the idea of killing children, old people, and women and ignoring taboos runs in the blood of the Palestinian Jews…. When we talk about their ideology, we do not mean their religion itself, to which they also do harm. They falsify it and put in it all their poisons, which are against all humanity.
drhawass.com. As of post time, Dr. Hawass’s web site is either not working or has been taken down. We’ve saved a cached version of his blog post here. … UPDATE 22 October 2010, 11:50pm: The site drhawass.com is back up. The blog post is here; in case of more technical difficulties, we’ve posted a screen shot here.)

“For 18 centuries, [the Jews] were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world.”  (source: MEMRI)

Zahi Hawass, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, was recently appointed to be an adviser to National Geographic’s new Arabic edition.
(source: The Straits Times)


Are you curious why the National Geographic Society
supports & elevates a man who says such things?
So are we — but John Fahey, CEO of NGS,
declined our first request for an interview.

Would you endorse
our second request for an interview?
If so, please click the “Recommend” button, below.



Don’t have a Facebook account? That’s okay.
Just email me — alan [at] societymatters [dot] org — and
I’ll raise our Anonymous But Curious tally by one.
(It’s under the Facebook widget in the right sidebar.)


23 October 2010, 12:10am


23 October 2010, 4:25pm

An email submitted via Dr. Hawass’s web site:

Subject: Rick Sanchez, Juan Williams & You

Dear Dr. Hawass,

My name is Alan Mairson, and I’m a former staff writer & editor at National Geographic magazine. I’m also the founder of Society Matters, an online project devoted to the National Geographic Society.

On Thursday, I posted an item titled “Rick Sanchez, Juan Williams… & Zahi Hawass.” You can see it here: http://ow.ly/2Y7Y9

This item has generated a huge spike in traffic at our site, and I want to be sure to continue to provide as much context & commentary as possible for our readers. If you have any thoughts or comments to share about your quotes, or if you would like to add any details, I would be delighted to post them at www.societymatters.org. Or you can visit the site & share your comments directly.

Thanks in advance for whatever feedback you can provide.

All the best,
Alan Mairson

photo credits:
≡  Rick Sanchez via the Dallas Observer
≡  Juan Williams via MIT
≡  Zahi Hawass via touregypt.net

Putting the fun back in non-profit funding

I’m not suggesting this fundraising appeal (below) by Alec Baldwin for public radio’s WNYC is necessarily a smart revenue tactic for the National Geographic Society.

But I am saying there are better ways to generate income for the Society — and far better ways to protect Our Brand — than selling an hour-long advertisement to Porsche and calling it a National Geographic documentary.

More of Alec Baldwin’s fundraising pitches for WNYC are here.

Where do good ideas come from?

Some media organizations get it, and some don’t. Some embrace their public (fans, members, customers, enthusiasts, call them what you will), while others keep that public at a distance. Some media executives know they can inspire a crowd by opening up the corporate conversation, while others keep a tight lid on who says what to whom. Some organizations exude confidence; others don’t. For example….

A few days ago, we received this invitation from NPR, PBS, and American University:

We attended the first PublicMediaCamp at American University last fall, and it was brilliant — an inspiring example of what can happen when you open the doors and let the sun shine in.

Today on the Insider — the National Geographic intranet bulletin that’s hidden behind the Society’s firewall — NG’s Ted Prince issued an invitation (below) to a “digital brainstorming” session for NGS staffers only. Why only staffers? Well, according to Mr. Prince — Executive Vice President of National Geographic Global Media, and the COO of National Geographic Ventures — NG staffers “know Nat Geo best.” That will be distressing news to more than four million Society members out here, some of whom have been dues-paying members for decades, which suggests they too might know something about “Nat Geo” worth sharing.

Reading these two invitations, it’s worth asking: Which one reflects the most organizational optimism and energy? Which invitation just pays lip service to the notion that “good ideas can and should come from anywhere” — and which one actually integrates that idea into the event? Which gathering would you want to attend?

(We can do so much better than this.)

Staff participation sought in digital brainstorming

Article posted on Insider by Karen Gilmour

Invitation from Ted Prince, Digital Media team

National Geographic leadership has and continues to embrace the idea that good ideas can and should come from anywhere. So, in this vein, we want your help to tap into a broad NGS-wide brain trust to generate ideas for the next generation of National Geographic digital apps for the iPad, iPhone and the other various digital & media products soon to hit the market such as the Samsung Galaxy.

Digital Media is organizing a series of brainstorming sessions over the next several months that will be open to all staff who register. Each session, which will be hosted by Digital Media staffers Leigh Brock and Jon Long and scheduled during lunchtime in the Digital Media 4th Floor Conference Room, will be limited to the first 15 individuals who submit digital apps idea summaries (e.g. product name, description, phone/tablet, free/paid, why consumers would be interested, link to mission, etc.). Free lunch will be served.

The first of the App Brainstorm Sessions is scheduled for Tuesday Oct 12, 12-1:30. And remember. If you can’t make this first one, there are more to come in the coming months.

To register, please e-mail or call Jo Dickison (jdickiso@ngs.org ext. 7822). Participants will be enlisted on a first come, first included basis.

Call early to make sure you get in on this first brainstorm session.

WHAT: Nat Geo App Brainstorm Session

WHEN: Five sessions to choose from:

#1 Tuesday Oct 12 12-1:30
#2 Tuesday Oct 26 12-1:30
#3 Tuesday Nov 16 12-1:30
#4 Tuesday Dec 7 12-1:30
#5 Tuesday Dec 21 12-1:30

WHY: To tap into the broad “well” of ideas for the next generation of Nat Geo Aps from the people who know Nat Geo best: Staff.

WHERE: 4th Floor M Street, Digital Media Conference Room

WHO: Brainstorm Sessions will be run by Leigh Brock and Jon Long. Invitation is open to all Nat Geo staff, 15 participants at a time.

HOW: Call or e-mail Jo Dickison (jdickiso@ngs.org or call ext. 7822). First come, first to be included.

BONUS: Free Lunch

Craig Newmark: Membership, not advertising

Three points we make repeatedly here at Society Matters:

1.  National Geographic should focus on membership.
2. Advertising is a short-term financial fix, but a long-term dead end.
3. NPR — by enthusiastically engaging with their loyal national audience, and by avoiding corporate advertising that might dilute the trustworthiness of their brand — is what NGS could have been, and, maybe, still might be.

At this week’s Washington Ideas Forum, Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said much the same thing:

Where will NGS be in 2020, John Fahey?

The Center Will Not Hold (3)

Journalism’s center of gravity keeps shifting….

NPR’s Argo Launches With Dozen Sites In Search Of Sustainability

The Argo Network goes live officially today: twelve sites hosted by 14 stations, each zeroing in on a topic of specific interest to that community relevance—local music in Philly, education and technology in the Bay Area, climate change on Cape Cod, New York state politics, the military in San Diego. … NPR wants to show that with the right resources, stations can create beats of value to the community and in turn increase their own audience and value by using the internet as a platform for original content.

— from Staci Kramer @ paidcontent.org

*     *     *

“A completely new model for us”: The Guardian gives outsiders the power to publish for the first time

Last week, the Guardian launched a network of science blogs with a goal that perfectly mixed science with blog: “We aim to entertain, enrage and inform.”

The network also marks another small shift in the media ecosystem: the media behemoth and independent bloggers, collaborating for audiences rather than competing for them.

— from Megan Garber @ Nieman Journalism Lab

*     *     *

Coming Soon: Storify

*     *     *

Meanwhile, at National Geographic:

Why did Joan Kroc show NPR the love — but not NGS?

The good news: Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, and John Fahey, CEO of NGS, will be appearing on a panel together next month.

The bad news: It’s being moderated by a lawyer who is paid by both NPR & NGS, which doesn’t suggest a rigorous Q&A.

Nonetheless, we have hope — and would love to see Mr. Newman highlight key differences between the business models at NPR & at NGS.

To that end, we encourage him to ask a simple question: Why do Ms. Schiller & Mr. Fahey think Joan Kroc deemed NPR to be a safe place for her $200+ million bequest, but no philanthropist has considered NGS to be an equally safe bet?

(For a hint, read this.)


Our China Syndrome (& membership meltdown)

Meanwhile, Chris Johns, Editor of National Geographic, decided that placating China is a better strategy.

It wasn’t always this way at National Geographic.

And with membership plummeting at NGS, we can’t help but wonder:

Are people leaving our Society?
Or is our Society leaving the people?

Social Media Smackdown?

Here at Society Matters, we’ve been rather vocal about our admiration of NPR‘s social media strategy and overall business model. (See this and this and this and especially this.)

We’ve also been equally puzzled by our Society’s social media strategy — or lack thereof – and the frightening lack of a sustainable, long-term business model for NGS. (See this and this and this and especially this.)

Which is why we’re very excited about this upcoming event on Tuesday, June 15, 2010, at 9:30am @ National Geographic headquarters. It’s part of Media 2.0 Day, which is part of Digital Capital Week.

The main event for us: “Social and Traditional Media: How News and Media Organizations are Getting Social and Why They Need To Do It.” Two of the featured speakers: Andy Carvin of NPR & Robert Michael Murray of National Geographic.

You should join us. It’ll be a study in contrasts, and, if moderator Carlos Roig knows his stuff, a lively debate.

It’s also free when you register here — though this particular match-up could easily have been turned into a pay-per-view event.

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