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A Situational Analysis on National Geographic - report

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A Situational Analysis on National Geographic - report

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A Situational Analysis on National Geographic - report

  1. 1. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC A Situational Analysis on an International Media Organization Group Members: Aditi Verma 0302985 Andrew Jaden 0304490 Eleanor-Jacinta 0304420 Hannah Hanif 0304878 Venice Min 0304310 Aiman Putra 1003F78265Introduction to Mass CommunicationAssignment Two, Semester OneFoundation in Communication, (July 2011) 1
  2. 2. TABLE OF CONTENTS S. No Topic Pages 01 Introduction to National Geographic 03 02 Background & Evolution of NGS 04-07 03 What Happened and Why? 8-10 04 Our Interpretation 11-12 05 The Conclusion 13 06 References 14 2
  3. 3. IntroductionWith a historical mission “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting theconservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources,” the National GeographicSociety (NGS) aims to inspire people to ‘care about their planet’, as quoted by Mr. John M. Fahey,Jr., President and CEO of the NGS since March 1998. Being one of the largest, non-profit scientificand educational institutions in the world, the National Geographic Society’s interests comprise ofgeography, archaeology, natural science along with the promotion of environmental and historicalconservation as well as the study of world culture and history. NGS indeed covers a variety ofsubjects in different arenas – from amazing photographs to mind-boggling documentaries, they haveit all – having twenty-three members Board of Trustees comprising of groups of distinguishededucators, leading business executives, former governmental officials, and conservationists as itsgovernors, and thus succeeds in achieving a high audience for the National Geographic Channel aswell as a large readership and circulation for the National Geographic Magazine.Thus, the following pages attempt to throw some light on how this quite prominent media organizationhas evolved over the years – becoming what it is today – as well as how it has somewhat influencedthe society at large and contributed to the world. 3
  4. 4. Background & EvolutionThe National Geographic Society was founded in January 13, 1888 in Washington, D.C., by agroup of eminent citizens who wished to promote geographic research as well as the populardistribution of the results of such research. The charter members of the Society consisted ofAlexander Graham Bell; Bells father-in-law, lawyer Gardiner Greene Hubbard; explorers JohnWesley Powell and A. W. Greeley; and scholar George Kennan, uncle of future ambassador to theSoviet Union George F. Kennan. Hubbard, being one of Bells early financial backers, was electedto serve as the Societys first president.The NGS began with publishing magazines and its first issue titled ‘National Geographic’ appearedin October and was sent to 200 charter members. It was published occasionally until monthlypublication began in January 1896. However, the early magazine’s articles were written in a dry,academic style and bore titles such as "Geographic Methods in Geologic Investigation" and "TheClassification of Geographic Forms by Genesis," with no illustrations; thus the limited circulation –with less than 1,000 subscribers and negligible newsstand sales.After the death of Hubbard in 1897, Alexander Graham Bell took the helm, finding the NationalGeographic Society in a precarious financial state, largely because its magazine had failed toprovide a strong revenue base. Thus, to improve the condition, he decided that a change ineditorial policy was needed that would make it a popular scientific magazine rather than a scholarlyjournal, and a full-time editor was required as well to manifest the changes he sought. Finally, in1899, Gilbert H. Grosvenor accepted the editorship offer from Bell.According to Poole (2004), Grosvenor proved to be the catalyst behind the immensely successfulpopularization of the magazine. He mandated some stylistic changes for the magazine, includingeliminating academic jargon, keeping sentences short and punchy, replacing scholarly formality 4
  5. 5. and detachment with engaging first-person narrative, and most significantly, introducingphotographs, gaining 11,000 regular subscribers by 1906. He then ran National Geographics firstcolour photos in 1910 and the magazine remains a pioneer in the journalistic use of photographytill date.In 1920, the entire National Geographic Society and its expanding operations finally becameGilbert Grosvenors responsibility when he succeeded John Pillsbury as president, though heremained editor of the magazine, which continued the readable, relatively upbeat style that he hadcreated.In these early years, the Society also began its sponsorship of high-profile exploratory,archaeological, and naturalistic expeditions, for example – It contributed $1,000 to the Arcticexpedition led by Commander Robert E. Peary in 1906 who then became the first documentedexplorer to reach the North Pole in 1909.Grosvenor continued its sponsorship of extraordinary expeditions as president of the NGS, and in1939 the Society and the Smithsonian Institution co-sponsored an expedition to southern Mexicoduring which archaeologist Matthew Sterling uncovered a Mayan stela, an inscribed tablet, whichwas the oldest known human artefact from the New World, as stated by Poole (2004).National Geographic reached a mass readership with a circulation of 500,000 at the end of WorldWar I, and also launched a weekly publication designed for classroom use, Geographic SchoolBulletins, in 1922, after receiving a request for geographical information from the NationalEducation Association.During World War II, the Society opened its photographic and cartographic archives to the U.S.military that provided intelligence about infrastructure in enemy-held territory and also helpedunveil camouflage when compared with the militarys own reconnaissance photographs. 5
  6. 6. After the war, the Society turned part of its attention to the outer space, co-sponsoring with theCalifornia Institute of Technology the ambitious Sky Survey, which would produce the Sky Atlas,the first comprehensive photographic map of the heavens.After bringing the NGS to a whole new level, Gilbert Grosvenor retired in 1954, becomingchairman of the Society and was succeeded in his positions by John Oliver La Gorce, who was inturn succeeded by Grosvenors son, Melville Bell Grosvenor, later.As editor of National Geographic, Melville Bell Grosvenor expanded the magazines use of colourphotography, and as CEO of the National Geographic Society, he expanded the Societys bookpublishing operations and also led it into the increasingly universal medium of television. Then, in1958, Grosvenor and long-time staffer Luis Marden decided to produce the Societys owntelevision programs, and three years later, the Society formed its documentary film department.The first Society-produced television special, "Americans on Everest," aired on CBS in 1965.In 1970, Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Melvilles son, assumed the leadership position at NationalGeographic, after the death of his Grandfather and retirement of his father, and by 1980 NationalGeographic boasted 10.7 million subscribers and a circulation of well over 30 million (NationalGeographic Online, official website).Despite the slowdowns in the economy and increased competition from other popular sciencemagazines during 1980s, the Societys television operations received a boost in 1985 when itsigned an agreement with cable station WTBS to produce a weekly documentary series, NationalGeographic Explorer.By the mid-1990s, the Society had sold more than four million home videos. Its ‘for-profitsubsidiary’, National Geographic Ventures, was producing educational materials in a variety offormats, including a Disney Channel television program called Really Wild Animals. The group wasplanning to air the National Geographic Channel on cable and satellite in cooperation with NBC. It 6
  7. 7. also ran the Societys web site and online store, and had established theatres and exhibits atnational parks.Even though the flagships sister publication, National Geographic Traveller, introduced in 1984,had been sold at newsstands for seven years, the NGS took another step forward byplacing National Geographic on newsstands in 1998, breaking a century of its "members only"tradition. After this, the National Geographic Adventure debuted in April 1999 initially as aquarterly, but expected to be produced monthly by 2001.So, as the National Geographic Society entered the 21st century, it boasted of three magazines,programs for television and home video, an expanding web site, and two freestanding retail storesin Washington, D.C., along with a new cable, a new magazine and international televisionchannels under development. The Society was also seeking partners to capitalize uponthe National Geographic brand name via toys, software, and other consumer goods. In January2001, the National Geographic Society added stewardship of the planet to its list of purposes andlater in the year added a new grant-making body, National Geographic Conservation Trust, tosupport conservation activities around the world.In a different realm, the National Geographic Channel also launched in January 2001 to about tenmillion U.S. homes, and received positive response.As quoted by Poole (2004), the societys mix of new media opened the door for the organization,and advertisers, to get their messages across in a variety of Geographic formats, and the whollyowned and taxable subsidiary National Geographic Ventures handled content distribution throughmeans ranging from home video and DVD to international television to digital archives.Therefore, the NGS indeed came a long way since when it first started with a single low-circulationmagazine, to a major media organization spanning worldwide from a variety of mass readershipmagazines, to its very own internationally acclaimed channel, to a huge website – all being vastpools of knowledge. 7
  8. 8. What Happened and Why?As noted in the previous section, National Geographic’s first issue published in October 1988 wasmore text orientated and articles are written in a dry, academic style, with no illustration. So, thevery first changes that were brought about to improve the magazine were initiated by AlexanderGraham Bell who took charge after the death of Gardiner Greene Hubbard in 1897, by making achange in the editorial policy as well as getting a full-time editor. His desired improvements, asseen in the previous section, were taken care of by Gilbert Grosvenor who became the catalystbehind the popularization of the magazine bringing many changes to it.Grosvenor revamped the magazine in various ways. National Geographic articles were madereadable without losing their educational value and photographs were then introduced into themagazine as Grosvenor knew well about the impact photographs would have. Color photos cameinto being soon enough and this move made National Geographic‘s circulation shoot up. This wasthe first step towards the magazine becoming the pioneer in journalistic use of photography. Italso began the era of photojournalism where photographers began to find new content to bepublished. Thus, these changes were driven by the economic factors – since NGS had been in aprecarious financial state – as well as by social factors since these were brought about to increasethe popularity of the magazine. Currently, the CEO of the National Geographic Society, John Fahey, says that the missionbehind his organization is not necessarily driving circulation rates up but promoting geographicknowledge and conservation of the planet’s cultural, historic and natural resources. (Wallace,McCombs School 2007). 8
  9. 9. Another major change in the National Geographic Society was when it moved on towardstelevision. This change was driven by economic and social factors yet again as there was a threatof decrease in readership of the magazine since the Great Depression. So, in order to stopNational Geographic from going down, they signed an agreement with cable station WTBS toproduce a weekly documentary series known as National Geographic Explorer in 1981. It can alsobe noted though, that despite the Great Depression influencing this change, technology alsoplayed a major role as Gilbert Grosvenor focused more on emerging technologies like theTelevision to increase popularity that would affect the Society’s long-term future.Another technology-driven change for the NGS was in the 1990s, when the Society collaboratedwith Lucasfilm and Apple Computer to come up with a multimedia packaged called “GTV”. “GTV”was designed to be used in middle schools as it included interactive lessons about the U.S.history. Thus, from the world of ‘print’, National Geographic had now moved to the era ofcomputers and television.A huge step that became the mark of success for the NGS was the launch of its channel. NationalGeographic Channel was first launched in September 1997 for UK, Europe and Australia. July1998 for Asia and finally in January 12, 2001 in the United States as a joint venture with Fox CableNetworks. However, audience awareness of National Geographic in United States as a networkstill needed a lot of work. This was due to the astonishing answer of the audience when asked: "When we ask viewers, Do you watch National Geographic? they say, Oh sure, I watch itall the time ... on Discovery," (Steve Schiffman Television Week 2003).So, the Discovery Channel was one of the competitors for documentary shows during that time,and this competition became the influencing factor behind the NGS putting in more and more effortto improve the National Geographic Channel. 9
  10. 10. Throughout 2003, National Geographic Television & Film’s programming areas had mixed results.Large format IMAX films were successful endeavors while programing for children had just startedoff the ground. "People under 40 dont watch a lot of documentaries even if we enhance them with a lot ofother elements. The entertainment genre is a way to reach those people, still with Geographicstories that are mission oriented." (Reference For Business Website n.d. ).So, National Geographic had to generate new content by including elements that would attract theyounger generation without losing the educational value in it. This was also to grab the youngergeneration’s attention and also create awareness about the missions that are done globally. Thesenew elements were also incorporated in the expanding website of the National Geographic. Onceagain, the social factor – going hand in hand with the ‘present generation’ – became the drivingforce behind these innovations.On the other hand, by 2006, National Geographic magazine had already been printed in nearly 30languages. Also, under licensing agreements, Geographic’s foreign publishing partners beganmixing more local interests articles with the American-produced content. Therefore, by doing so,aspects transitioned from bringing the world to Americans to bringing the Americans to the world.Thus, it can be concluded that the improvements brought about throughout in the NGS – all theway from the print media to the broadcasting and web media – were all influenced by social,economic and technological factors as well as to outdo its competitors. 10
  11. 11. Our InterpretationAfter much research concerning the National Geographic Society, we have been able tounderstand its role in the mass media better than when National Geographic remained a simple‘TV channel’ and nothing more. By analyzing news articles and assorted pieces of informationscattered all around the Internet, we have come to believe that National Geographic hasinfluenced the world through its embrace of times long past and the present, not to mention that isand has yet to come – the future. From what we can see in recent times, National Geographic embodies a wide range oftraits and ideals, from the old to the new. How so? For one, it embraces the beauty of civilizationslong past by and has helped to sponsor popular traveling exhibits such as the "King Tut" exhibitfeaturing magnificent artefacts from the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh, which toured in severalAmerican cities before ending its U.S. showing at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The Tutexhibit is currently in Atlanta, while another National Geographic exhibit called ‘The CulturalTreasures of Afghanistan’ opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in May 2008, beforetravelling over the next eighteen months to places like Houston, San Francisco, and New YorkCity. And interestingly, they stopped photo journalism for the time being after Kodak stoppedproducing Kodachrome film, in which some of National Geographic’s most memorable pictureswere captured. How have they embraced modern society though? For starters, back in 2010, theyintroduced the National Geographic Interactional Edition to the iPad, which allowed them toconnect with an entirely new generation – our generation. They have also thrown in their supportfor the various fields of modern science – cryptozoology, anthropology and archaeology, to giveseveral examples. In fact, National Geographic’s CEO, John Fahey has stated that NationalGeographic attempts to only take a position on matters supported by strong scientific support,such as global warming, a topic that’s received significant coverage in the magazine (Wallace, 11
  12. 12. 2007). The magazine also covered the Human Genome Project in 2007, which attempted todetermine the origins and path of human migration. Last but not least, the Society is verysupportive of geology and exploration worldwide, as evidenced by their two awards – the Hubbardand Alexander Graham Bell medal, both given to distinguished contributors of exploration andgeology respectively, for example Matthew Henson (Solomon, 2001) and the duo of RogerTomlinson and Jack Dangermon (Braun, 2010). National Geographic has also helped sponsor numerous research projects over the years,with examples being the undersea exploration by Jacques-Yves Cousteau – who was the co-creator of the aqualung, Xu Xing’s discovery of fossil dinosaurs in China with distinct feathers,Spencer Wells’ Genographic Project, which was a multi-year genetic anthropology study thataimed to map historical human migration patterns by collecting and analysing DNA samples fromhundreds of thousands of people from around the world, although it met opposition fromindigenous tribes (Harmon, 2006) as well as Robert Ballard’s dual discoveries of the famed RMSTitanic in 1985, not to mention the PT-109 boat commanded by U.S. President John F. Kennedyduring World War II (Chamberlain, 2002). National Geographic also happens to sponsor theNational Geographic Bee, which is an annual geographic contest for middle-school Americanstudents, as well as an international geography competition every two years. The most recent onewas held back in July 15, 2009 at Mexico City, and boasted representatives from 15 nationalteams. The team from Canada emerged as the winner, while teams representing the United Statesand Poland obtained runner-up, 2nd runner-up being the position of the latter. In conclusion, we can safely assume that as an organization, the National GeographicSociety has played a not-insignificant role in enriching the lives of people worldwide, not just byspreading a love of science and exploration to all corners of the globe, but also by givingresearchers the chance to contribute to society by lending a subtle, but meaningful hand viasponsorship, and finally also playing a role in nurturing the interest of budding geologistsworldwide. 12
  13. 13. ConclusionThe preceding pages have attempted to shed some light on the National Geographic Society, ofhow it evolved over the years, what changes and innovations enabled it to reach the position itholds currently in society, and somewhat it’s impact on and contribution to the world by exploringwide arenas like archaeology, natural science, world culture, history, geography and theenvironment, etc.So, one can definitely say that the NGS is living up to its motto to inspire people to care about theplanet. 13
  14. 14. Reference List: 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_geographic (Wikipedia) 2. http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/image- collection/#/history_of_photography/ (History of Photography website-National Geographic) 3. http://theadventureblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/national-geographic-comes-to-ipad.html (Blog) 4. http://www.lb9.uscourts.gov/webcites/10documents/Spencer_NatGeo.pdf (Article) 5. http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/31/National-Geographic-Society.html (Reference for Business Website) 6. http://www2.mccombs.utexas.edu/news/pressreleases/fahey07.asp (News story) 7. Poole, Robert M. (2004). Explorers House: National Geographic and the World it Made. New York: Penguin (e-book) 8. www.nationalgeographic.com (Official website – National Geographic) 14

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