After 127 years of its establishment as a nonprofit (since 1888), the National Geographic Society has sold a majority stake to 21st Century Fox at a deal worth US$725 million. As expected, this means that the National Geographic Society has restructured the entire organization as well.
National Geographic revealed all the details in a press release. Despite now owning only 27% of the organization (as opposed to Fox’s 73%), the board of directors will have equal representation of the two parties. They also announced that the chair of the board of directors would change on a yearly basis, starting with current National Geographic Society CEO and President Gary Knell. What they described as an “expanded joint venture” will now be called National Geographic Partners, comprising of its television channels, magazines, as well as other media platforms and businesses. Its CEO? Declan Moore, who is currently the society’s Chief Media Officer, and is described in the press release as a “20-year veteran” of the National Geographic Society.
CEO and President Gary Knell claims that this joint venture will increase its endowment to almost US$1 billion, allowing them to invest almost twice as much into scientific research. After all, the National Geographic Society has won prestigious awards for supporting scientific research in various fields, from biology to astronomy, and geology to archaeology. But let’s be honest here; the big concern is Rupert Murdoch. Could for-profit status eliminate National Geographic’s authenticity and integrity, let alone when a climate change denier owns 73% of it? Many think so, even though his son, current 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch claims to have convinced his father to believe in climate change back in 2007.
Fox aside, the different branches under the National Geographic Society haven’t been doing too well, with a Washington Post story revealing National Geographic Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg has been butting heads with Courteney Monroe, CEO of the National Geographic Channel. It seems that the magazine thinks that the television channel leans towards more “sensationalist” content. Perhaps a unified media organization could do the trick. The society’s CEO Gary Knell believes that it would help keep of National Geographic’s media outlets consistent with one another. And editorial changes for the magazine? Knell says there won’t be “turn in a direction that is different from the National Geographic heritage.” Finally, he claims that the National Geographic Society under the new structure will remain nonprofit.
Many will be pleased to hear about the additional capital that can be used to finance scientific research, and perhaps a unified media body could be more hard science and less TV entertainment. Whatever happens, it’s not surprising to know that National Geographic’s generations of fans are concerned. After 127 years, one could understand the reluctance to change, especially when you’re pairing National Geographic with Fox, who many would call the antonym of science.