National Geographic magazine partners with Fox to become for-profit

National Geographic and 21st Century Fox have announced a new for-profit partnership taking over the magazine and other NatGeo media properties.
National Geographic and 21st Century Fox have announced a new for-profit partnership taking over the magazine and other NatGeo media properties.

I had to double-check the date on this to make sure it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. The Washington Post is reporting today that National Geographic magazine, which has been a non-profit since 1888, will become for-profit in a new partnership with 21st Century Fox, Rupert Murdoch‘s media company. In addition to the magazine, the partnership includes National Geographic’s television channel and other media properties. The National Geographic Society, which has owned the magazine since the beginning, will remain non-profit and separate from this partnership.

National Geographic is no stranger to corporate partnerships, but this deal seems altogether different from private companies’ underwriting the organization’s grants and operations. In exchange for $725 million, Fox will own 73 percent of the new media company, called National Geographic Partners. The National Geographic Society will own the remaining 27 percent. The chair of the partnership’s board will rotate annually between a Fox representative and a National Geographic Society representative.

National Geographic’s press room has a bit more detail in a press release.

There’s little information about how this will change the magazine or National Geographic’s other media assets. The cable channel has been the subject of controversy in the past; close to my hometown, the channel’s reality show “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites” has been called distorted and exploitative by its subjects. Another National Geographic show featuring Montana, Diggers, has been criticized for promoting the looting of archaeological sites. And in the past, some of National Geographic’s photo contests have been rights grabs. Their ongoing Your Shot photography community allows National Geographic and its partners perpetual usage of submitted work.

WNYC’s On the Media had a good piece a few years back looking at what it called of National Geographic. The show questioned National Geographic Society CEO John Fahey and National Geographic Channel CEO David Lyle about the preponderance of trashy, “pulp” reality shows on the channel.

My hopes aren’t high for what this transition means. The American cable channel TLC was originally run by NASA and featured programming that fit well under its longer name, The Learning Channel. In 1980, the channel was acquired by a private company and began a long slide into what it has become now, a television channel featuring the worst of the worst “reality tv.” It will be interesting to see what becomes of National Geographic’s magazine and other media as this partnership takes hold.

FAA says journalists can’t use drones but can buy drone-created photos/video from hobbyists

In what strikes me as a very strange distinction, the FAA has said this week that journalists and media organizations may not use drones for their newsgathering operations without permission, though they may purchase photos and video from hobbyists that they do not employ.

American journalists and media organizations have been pushing the FAA to rule whether or not they can legally use drones for newsgathering for some time now. In March of last year, a judge ruled that commercial drone use is legal in the US, though the FAA appealed the ruling.

A person who wishes to operate a UAS to take pictures or videos or gather other information that would be sold to media outlets would need an FAA authorization for the operation”FAA, Media Use of UAS, May 5, 2015

Now, in a memorandum issued May 5, 2015 (embedded above), the FAA says using a drone specifically for newsgathering, whether it’s a news organization or a freelancer intending to sell the work to a publication, requires FAA permission as does any other “non-hobby” usage of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones). However, if a hobbyist happens to take pictures or video and a media organization wants to license that work for news purposes, the FAA says that is okay because the flight is considered authorized.

Hopefully, there will be legal challenges to this memorandum. Both a Forbes contributor and Vice Motherboard have more coverage of this memorandum, raising concerns about the restrictions this places on the press. The memo makes me think of last year’s controversy over proposed US National Forest regulations regarding photography on public lands.

On this subject, do yourself a favor and check out Tomas van Houtryve‘s Blue Sky Days project, if for some strange reason you haven’t seen it yet. It’s been widely published and awarded, and for good reason. The project is the most creative and insightful investigation of American drone warfare that I’ve seen. I saw him present the work to a small crowd a couple weeks ago at the Magenta Foundation‘s Flash Forward Festival in Boston. If he’s presenting in your area, his presentations are well worth checking out.

Worth a look: The Groundtruth Project and Foreverstan

Last night I attended the launch of the Groundtruth Project, a non-profit news organization focused on training the next generation of international correspondents and producing international journalism. Today, Groundtruth has published their most recent project, Foreverstan, a current and nuanced look at the United States’ longest war. There’s an introduction video embedded above, but the project website is really worth a look.

groundtruthproject First, a little about the Groundtruth Project. It was founded by Charles Sennott (co-founder of GlobalPost and longtime reporter), Gary Knight (co-founder of VII), and Kevin Douglas Grant (formerly the Senior Editor of Special Reports at GlobalPost). In Sennott’s introduction last night he said that he had been talking with the Ford Foundation, one of Groundtruth’s funders, about the difficulties of running GlobalPost as a business. They said that GlobalPost may technically be a for-profit enterprise, but it’s really a non-profit. Sennott then founded Groundtruth as a non-profit dedicated to international newsgathering and training young journalists for international reporting.

Though last night in Boston was the official launch of Groundtruth, the organization has been active for a few years. They’ve funded a number of reporting fellowships and projects: in Egypt, in Burma, on global health, human rights in Africa, millenials around the world, and this year’s Middle East Fellowship. They’ve also published a number of special reports on topics around the world in addition to these fellowships. Crucially, Groundtruth makes sure that their stories reach wide audiences, partnering with a number of international news organizations including Public Radio International, WGBH, PBS Frontline and others.

Screenshot of the Foreverstan website - a project by the Groundtruth Project
Screenshot of the Foreverstan website – a project by the Groundtruth Project

Foreverstan is the latest of these special reports, published in partnership with WGBH and funded by the Ford Foundation and The Bake Family Trust. It combines writing, video, and photography by Jean MacKenzie, Beth Murphy, and Ben Brody, looking at the current situation of Afghanistan through stories centered around the internationally-built Ring Road in the country. The stories are separated into three sections: a look at the military handover to Afghanistan forces, girls’ education in the country, and the lives of Afghanistan’s millenials, who’ve only known war during their lifetimes. It’s an ambitious project, but one which looks a bit deeper than most conflict reporting. At the launch last night, the founders and panelists stressed the importance of “context” reporting, examining the circumstances surrounding and leading to conflict.

Keep an eye on Groundtruth’s site for future projects and ways to get involved. Also, not to be missed is the Groundtruth Project’s Field Guide, which includes guidelines for reporting from the field and a collection of essays on lessons learned from the field by a number of international correspondents, including James Foley. It’s a free download and a great resource for those interested in international reporting. You can also keep up with Groundtruth’s projects at their blog.