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National Geographic Society sets biggest layoff in its history (washingtonpost.com)
192 points by brudgers on Nov 4, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 142 comments

They haven't handled the transition to new media and values properly:

1. Their magazine: Almost all magazines have been replaced with websites. Their website dramatically undersells their content. Look at it, really. It's basically like clickhole, but with stories of climate change. The dramatic photography of the magazine is only coming across in about 50% of the photos and the headlines are all clickbait format.

2. Their television presence includes shows like "Drugs, Inc." whose primarily job is to scare old people with re-enactments of drug crimes. Who would pay for that "value"? (I guess people who watch police shows? but what does that saturated market have to do with their brand?)

3. Their youtube stream is a massive quantity of short, low-quality videos. I subscribe and only watch about 1 in 50 of them. Another problem with their videos is so few have narration which I feel is a key feature of travel and wildlife shows.

4. They haven't handled outreach to a younger generation. With all the urban young people (esp. women IMO) who love to travel the world with disposable income (no families, marrying late), NG has no selling relationship with them.

5. The global geopolitical situation is more interesting than ever with worldwide communication, but I don't see NG addressing that. Maybe they are - somewhere? - but their marketing isn't penetrating.

I feel like they could turn it around if they primarily address the youngest generation - perhaps get more involved in the travel and outdoor supplies markets.

I'd disagree with point 4. Their Instagram feed has all of the stunning beauty that National Geographic originally became famous for: https://instagram.com/natgeo/, and commands a 35.4 million person following. I'm not sure how you parlay this into a "selling relationship", but it is a great way to outreach to a younger generation.

The National Geographic Channel is a different company than the magazine and is a subsidiary of FOX. So, it's a good example of the kind of schlock that the Murdoch Empire will produce.

Despite all the issues that the magazine and non-profit org may have, they produce quality journalism. You can't say that about the TV channel.

That acquisition literally happened in September. The content has been garbage for far longer than two months.

The channel debuted with Fox as an equity partner. The transaction last month was the magazine and the rest of the TV channel.

The National Geographic Channel has been with FOX for much longer than a few months. I can't seem to find the date when FOX became involved, but it predates this acquisition by many years. This latest acquisition is just a furthering of the takeover of National Geographic by FOX.

> With all the urban young people (esp. women IMO) who love to travel the world with disposable income (no families, marrying late), NG has no selling relationship with them.

Given its mission to increase and diffuse geographical knowledge, it's remarkable to me that National Geographic doesn't operate a travel-services agency (insurance, tours, guidebooks—that kind of thing). It seems like that should be right in its wheelhouse, and could be profitable enough to fund its research projects, if competently run.

They have a travel wing. http://www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com/ Including a partnership with a cruise line. They also have a fairly extensive travel publishing section http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/ngs/category/books/travel... . (They even have a very lightly branded travel insurance partnership http://www.travelinsure.com/custom/ngs/ )

Obviously discoverability, and advertising of these is less than ideal. A lot of it is actually verging on overextending to the brand, like "The Dog Lover's Guide to Travel" just doesn't seem a good brand expansion.

Wow, I never knew, despite my folks & grandparents being members my entire life, and it's not even on their Wikipedia page, either. As you note, the discoverability doesn't seem very good.

I guess it boils down to the 'competently run' part: if one is going to run a profit-making enterprise, one needs to advertise!

They do have a travel agency. http://www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com

> shows like "Drugs, Inc." whose primarily job is to scare old people with re-enactments of drug crimes. Who would pay for that "value"?

Since we're talking about Murdoch's media assets, this reminds me there's a thriving business in the "news" media based entirely on scaring (mostly) old people with fabricated alarmist stories.

The good thing about becoming a Rupert Murdoch company is that you can save a lot of money by laying off the fact-checkers.

Is that a joke?

4) I think they were trying to handle that with a spin off magazine "National Geographic Traveler". The ones I looked at weren't that compelling although beautiful. (and I love the National Geographic magazine).


Browsing this portion of their site induced me to (attempt to) subscribe to the print edition of "Traveler." However, their subscription page automatically signs me up for "auto renewal" (with no option to opt out) and also notes that they will sell my information to other companies with no direct way to opt out. Changed my mind. I have encountered this same issue with other magazines and each time I balk when I read stuff like this. Treat me like your customer, not a product to sell to someone else. And don't require me to auto-renew before I've even read a single issue.

Re #5, at least in Thailand, they have high-quality translations of their magazine at affordable prices. But yes I wonder why they don't have a good digital back catalog.

Re #4, National Geographic Kids ebooks are available on the Reading Rainbow platform, and it is very high quality (Thanks mostly in part due to Reading Rainbow's transcription it seems)

I would agree with all your sentiments expect Drugs Inc and Underworld Inc. I don't think its designed to scare old people and the people on the show are not made up. Its a documentary. You take from it what you will. In fact I find the show to be sympathetic to both sides of drug and crime problems we have.

Sounds a lot like what VICE did. Now they're killing it.

Before we blame Murdoch, I think it's worth remembering that NatGeo was in a bad position when it was sold off to Murdoch...that's why it was sold off in the first place:

> The magazine’s domestic circulation peaked at about 12 million copies in the late 1980s; today, the publication reaches about 3.5 million subscribers in the United States and an additional 3 million subscribers abroad through non-English-language editions. Advertising has been in steady decline.

Just because the layoffs are happening as NatGeo becomes part of Murdoch's empire doesn't mean that this was a greedy, self-serving move, and not one that was a long-time due and for which Murdoch gets the recognition/blame for, likely in exchange for a purchase price he was willing to accept. Would these layoffs not happened if NatGeo hadn't managed to be sold off as it was in decline?

seems unsustainable to hope for better numbers. 3 million subscribers is a lot. The New Yorker is profitable at 1 million. Sure the National Geographic Society does more and its stories might cost more to get written, but it needs to go digital and expand the way other publications are if it wants better numbers.

I love the New Yorker, but its forte is not sending photographers to the bottom of the sea or the heart of the Amazon.

> Before we blame Murdoch, I think it's worth remembering that NatGeo was in a bad position when it was sold off to Murdoch...that's why it was sold off in the first place

Fair point.

But I wonder why it was bought.

It's a largely unknowable question, since it's just in the eye of the beholder. It could be purely a "let's wring whatever value we can get out of the brand until it's a dried-up husk and throw it aside".

Or it could be a, "Look, this isn't a very well-run business, there's a lot of redundancy, and a lot of investment in prestige initiatives that don't bring in a lot of revenue, so let's trim things down and focus on higher-margin operations, and then see how we can leverage the brand across the rest of the organization".

I mean, both of my scenarios are effectively very similar, one just assumes malice, the other good corporate stewardship. It's hard to know.

Hopefully it is because they identified all things t2015_08_25 did in the top post, and they see it a currently under preforming and make a killing by implementing those changes.

The wildlift, historical and other such scenes are reuseable and repackageable to an extreme. That is, they are still relevant 30 years from when they are filmed. That makes those assets quite valuable over the long run as you can continuously extract fees from licensing. Compare that to tv shows and even reality tv which quickly become dated and have a short shelf life.

Sadly, with the rate of wilderness, wildlife, and species loss, quite likely far more valueable in 30 years' time.

Comparative analysis of human + domesticated animal terrestrial vertebrate biomass vs. that of wildlife is truly staggering.


The guy in that linked post just pulled his 10,000 BC biomass estimate out of thin air. I wouldn't go around making any major life decisions based on it.

Frankly I have trouble believing the evil mastermind conspiracy theories that are so prevalent every time Murdoch, Soros or whoever buys something. People forget that it's not a personal plaything like a sports team, but a business investment. Sure, it's possible Rupert Murdoch personally structured a deal to buy this company, then gave strict orders to fire anyone who didn't watch Fox News.

I find it far easier to believe that News Corp, as a publicly traded company, wants to increase its own equity value by allocating capital well. And that the executives who work there have shown skill at identifying big-brand media companies who have been mismanaged and are in terminal decline, and purchasing them for a price which makes it easy to streamline the operation, cut dead wood and make a profit on the transaction.

The alternative is that the name and brand dissappears below the waterline forever and becomes something that people used to talk about.

If Fox backs neutrally positive enterprises, at the core of US identity, then it gains legitimity in the eyes of the Left community. So basically, it should make the right gain votes, at least in the long term, and if he doesn't kill the thing. Well, this is just a thought.

Possibly because Murdoch noticed that Nat Geo's subscriber demographics skew towards older people with more money to spend? Maybe he thinks he can monetize the subscriber asset base better.

either for nostalgic purposes or simply because they determined the name still has value and with some corrections could again be valuable?

The TV channel.

and the accumulated library of pictures, video, etc.

would the fact-checking department have been the first casualties if the buyer wasn't Murdoch?

Seeing that the fact-checking department was called out specifically gave me a good hearty laugh.

appears to affect almost every department of the nonprofit organization, including the magazine, which the society has published since just after its founding in 1888. The reduction also will affect people who work for the National Geographic Channel, the most profitable part of the organization. Several people in the channel’s fact-checking department, for example, were terminated on Tuesday, employees said.

The department that obviously didn't help you craft your question...


I'm pretty sure you are getting downvotes because your original comment was needless political snark. Now you are making baseless accusations of "vote manipulation". Please don't do this here.

So political snark is synonymous with making an observation now is it. I mention vote manipulation because it was very apparent that is what igotspam had done. I care not for meaningless points but when people use multiple accounts to further their own point it is disingenuous and serves the community to highlight this sort of behaviour so others do not waste time interacting with him.

> So political snark is synonymous with making an observation now is it. [sic]

a) you didn't make an observation, you asked a question

b) it was a snarky question

c) they're laying off folks from, according to the article, 'almost every department of the nonprofit organization'

> I mention vote manipulation because it was very apparent that is what igotspam had done.

Or, y'know, thousands of people read HN and some large number of them think that you're off-base.

Accusing people of vote manipulation probably violates the guidelines. If you actually think someone is manipulating the votes (eg with dual accounts) you should email the mods and let them know. They seem receptive to that kind of thing.

In this case it seems unlikely that you've been downvoted by one person with two accounts. Downvotes are sometimes accidental; and incorrect or unfair downvotes are often corrected. But accusing people of bad faith downvotes is a sure way to attract more downvotes.

HN is not reddit. People downvote when you write useless comments. Get over it.

NatGeo tried to spin the sale to Murdoch by saying that Murdoch's cash would bring stability to the troubled magazine. It looks like cash is being taken, not given. This is a strange form of stability...

>"This is a strange form of stability..."

How so? Maybe it's "stability" in the sense that NatGeo will continue to be a going concern for the foreseeable future? What sense would it make to buy a struggling business and make no changes?

Massive layoffs is pretty much the opposite of stability.

No, the opposite of stability is heamorraging money. Layoffs may enable them to stop doing that.

It became a greedy, self-serving move the moment they decided it would be a good idea to associate the good name of National Geographic with Murdoch et al.

>Several people in the channel’s fact-checking department, for example, were terminated on Tuesday, employees said.

What a ridiculous line. "For example". It just so happens that the example they chose to name and print is just right to get the people up-in-arms about Murdoch cutting the fact-checking department, while in reality people from many departments are being cut. We've seen it in this very thread.

I'm no Fox fan, but the left-wing media plays its own games.

> I'm no Fox fan, but the left-wing media plays its own games.

I'm hoping this is an inadvertent straw man. Is there anyone on the left who would dispute this? Media is it's own indignant shouty echo chamber.

I have no horse in this race (I don't even live in the USA) but I've seen people use "Reality has a liberal bias" on HN unironically so I guess this could answer your question.

>Is there anyone on the left who would dispute this?

I think so.

I have Fox Business on every morning to get caught up with the financial news. Some of the things that are said, or the characters that are produced as pundits...it's astonishing. Their agenda is so blatant. Watch the station for 15 minutes and you'll likely ask, "How do people take this seriously?" In fact, it's so obvious that I still watch the channel, because it adds an element of humour when all I'm looking for is data.

The left, on the other hand, does it in a far more intelligent, subtle way. And I think it fools a lot of people. Look in this very thread at how many people picked up on the fact that the "first thing cut" was the fact-checking department. That may or may not be true, but we don't know from this article.

>In addition to the layoffs and buyouts, the National Geographic Society said it would freeze its pension plan for eligible employees, eliminate medical coverage for future retirees and change its contributions to an employee 401(k) plan so that all employees receive the same percentage contribution.

Of all of it, this pisses me off the most. Because who needs a retirement? Thanks for your years of hard work, here's a 401(k) fucking income supplement. Oh, and no medical coverage for you. Have fun working until you die.

What is the role of the employer to provide any of these items, these are all archaic fringe benefits that obfuscate a wage and greatly enable large corporations to keep talent from moving to a new start-up.

* The pension based retirement defined benefit plan is a bonus item that originated because the government encouraged it in the 1921 Revenue Act [1] by exempting pensions from being taxed as income. Then when the National Labor Relations Board "interpreted" the law 27 years later to include it as a benefit that was inclusive of employment did it become a larger liability. Large companies were able to absorb the costs of pensions being paid into the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation [2] after the 1974 setting of requirements, hurting the ability of small companies to set up comparable benefits. The slow death march of private based pensions follows the incentive curve and the movement to defined contribution for companies enables smaller companies to be more competitive with the big companies [3].

* The medical coverage one vexes me financially, as I do not know how guaranteed this is, of all the things that would be eliminated in a bankruptcy, this is most probable and would save the receiving company a lot of money.

My point here is that the 401k and retirement program free of the company means you create an employee who has more worries about retirement, but is not locked into an employer's retirement pension contribution system.

[1] http://www.ebri.org/publications/facts/index.cfm?fa=0398afac...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pension_Benefit_Guaranty_Corpo...

[3] http://20somethingfinance.com/defined-benefit-vs-defined-con...

Accident of history or not, retirement and health benefits offered through employers have been how such systems are funded in the US.

The total value of the system is on the order of $18 trillion dollars, slightly more than the ~$15 trillion annual GDP. https://www.ici.org/pressroom/news/ret_10_q4

Too, employees have far more at stake, and far less negotiating power, than employees, a fact quite openly recognised in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (Book 1, Chapter 8: https://en.m.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Wealth_of_Nations/Book_...)

There's further a great deal of other infrastructure which reinforces the existing system, from tax and other laws based on employer-provided benefits (including substantial advantages to both employers and employees participating in such plans), and of the services industries built around these (it's far more economical, and actuarially defensible, to deal with groups of people, particularly large aggregates, than one-on-one).

Which means that:

1. You cannot simply turn this ship on a dime. It's quite literally larger than the economy.

2. Changes to present employee benefits represents a material change in compensation and risk profile to those employees, for which they're poorly equipped to either address or organise against.

Yes. The change in pension to defined contribution should be something that is phased in as those making decisions in the system were making them under existing conditions. However, once the change has been made, those not grandfathered in should expect the new infrastructure.

That is why the social security system needs to start being changed for longer lifespans, not for those who operated under the current system, but so it can remain solvent for those entering the program now.

I didn't read anything else you posted after the first sentence.

While I have a similar sentiment regarding the fact that employers should get out of the business of retirement, life insurance, medical, etc., that's the way it's been for the older generation. Phase it out, don't just cut everyone over and cut benefits in one moment.

Same with Social security, for that matter.

The benefits were not cut, they were frozen. Those benefits currently earned are guaranteed through the aforementioned Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The article does not mention it, but there are a variety of freezes that could occur:

* Plan freeze: All currently earned benefits are given to the employee without any future opportunity to earn further benefit. In this case, the earned benefits are still there, just now one needs to find another retirement system.

* New freeze / Grandfather Freeze: All current employees are allowed to fill out the vesting period, but new employees are not allowed onto the pension.

Aside: nice handle.

Or you know.. set aside money for retirement on your own terms?

I feel like recent history has shows that pension plans plans are a disaster for companies b/c you're just offsetting costs into the unknown future when you may not be able to afford it. (see american car companies and unionized labor)

It also seems to attracts complacent people ie. lifers (see gov't sector)

Though there are irritating artificial tax benefits, I always would rather get cold hard cash

At least in most of Europe that is not an option. There's no opt-out of national pension systems, except perhaps for entrepreneurs.

On the plus side, your future pension is not dependent on the success of your employer, a much larger crisis (as in Greece now) is required before your retirement is in danger.

On the minus side, it's dependent on the success and long-term planning of the country, and any kind of early retirement may be impossible/harshly penalized.

Personally I would prefer to handle it on my own, but on the whole I really appreciate that everyone is guaranteed a stable and healthy retirement.

At least a socialized national system gives you flexibility of moving between employers without losing your benefits. It's arguably on par with individual retirement accounts and vastly superior to company-based retirement.

However this eliminates a company's ability to retrain workers. Though maybe a modern company should anticipate high employee mobility

How does this eliminate a company's ability to retrain workers?

I'm not seeing the link between defined benefit company-sponsored retirement plans and retraining.

The US has its own nationally administered pension scheme called "Social Security". The problem is that the amount that is pays is so small that anyone who wants to live better than a near-poverty-level lifestyle in retirement needs a private supplement.

Well that and it was poorly managed and is currently operating "paycheck to paycheck".

1) Even if all payments into the Social Security trust funds stopped today, they'd have enough cash on hand to cover payments for 37 months. (see https://www.socialsecurity.gov/finance/)

2) Assuming tax collections for Social Security remain at the same level they are today, the trust funds won't run out of money until the year 2034. (See https://www.nasi.org/learn/socialsecurity/future-finances)

So there's a gap between what they're collecting and what they're paying out, but "will be a problem 20 years from now" is quite a bit different from "living paycheck to paycheck." And since the Social Security Administration doesn't have control over either the amount of revenue they get or the amount of benefits they pay out -- those decisions are all made by Congress, not SSA -- it's difficult to argue that any of this is their fault.

Poor phrasing on my part. I'm not sure projected spending outstripping projected income is any better than being paycheck to paycheck though.

Definitely agree with you that SSA is not at fault here.

What if you had predicted years in advance that it would happen and saved up a bunch of money to cover it?

That's easier said than done in countries with high taxes. If people are supposed to save for yourself, don't lie to them claiming that their taxes will ensure a decent retirement.

that's kinda a separate issue... that's maybe a problem with the tax system in the US?

Pension plans are a terrible idea. Read 'Why I left Goldman Sachs' to see how so-called professionals manage pension money. Just give me the cash money now and I'll invest it myself, thank you very much.

No they're not. They're a great idea.

If idiots are left in charge of them, then yes, they're a bad idea. But that sort of applies to everything.

I, for one, will deal with some idiocy to guarantee a safe and secure retirement. I have neither the time, energy, nor expertise to actively manage my retirement funds. So that's my trade-off.

Calling a 401(k) a replacement for pensions is disingenuous. They're ridiculously cheaper for employers and provide a much, much less valuable return for employees. Regardless of who is in charge, the switch has nothing to do with the people managing them and only to do with saving the company money.

You're under-selling 401Ks and over-selling pensions.

I just started a job in government. I had two choices: 10% of my salary in a 401K, or 5% of my salary in a 401K and 5% in a pension. I selected the full 10% in a 401K and let me explain why:

- The 401K can follow me job to job. The pension is tied to this employer.

- If I quit this job or get fired before 65, I lose a good chunk of my pension, however my 401K remains safe.

- The pension is largely a "black box." Money goes in, and I have zero control over how it is invested or what their fees are.

- If I retire at 62 I lose 10%(!) of my pension, if I retire at 60 I lose 15%(!). 401K doesn't care when I retire, just when I withdraw the money (e.g. I could live on other savings from 62-65).

- If I die before retirement there are a complex set of rules deciding what percentage my spouse receives (summary: less than me, almost always).

- If I die on a 401K, my spouse receives 100% of the money as long as they cash it after their retirement (for tax reasons).

- I can invest it all in a nice safe diversified index fund with extremely low management fees (the management fees on other funds alone between now and retirement could wind up costing me almost a years salary!).

- The 401K money vests in 4 years. The pension money effectively vests in 20 years (takes 20 years to receive a really crappy pension).

Pensions have a lot of asterisk/gotchas/limitations/etc. The devil is in the details. 401K requires some self-management, but removes most of the limitations, and you can receive a good retirement as long as you put it somewhere relatively safe, diversified, and inexpensive.

Plus if you die then either your spouse OR kids massively "win" with a 401K. A pension definitely doesn't protect their interests.

> The pension is largely a "black box." Money goes in, and I have zero control over how it is invested or what their fees are.

The vast majority of people are absolutely terrible at picking investments, so this is a feature, not a bug.

401Ks allow you to move the money between different managed funds. The main difference is choice: With a pension someone else decides which funds, with a 401K you decide which funds.

You don't need to be a financial expert to pick a managed fund. Just look at the fees and history and decide. A pension is like being locked into one managed fund the entire time no matter how poorly it performs or how high the fees go.

Plus some pensions don't diversify enough. I'm sure Enron's former employees will tell you all about it.

> I just started a job in government. I had two choices: 10% of my salary in a 401K, or 5% of my salary in a 401K and 5% in a pension.

You're talking about 401(k) so I'm assuming US here. Are you using 401k to mean TSP? Or is there a federal gov't position that actually offers 401(k) plans?

And if you do mean TSP, then you'd be under FERS. Or is this a state job?

State job. It is 401(k). Not TSP.

Ok, didn't know of states offering 401(k)s, either. Learn something new every day.

Did you also get to opt out of Social Security with this position? That's a common thing when states offer pensions. With choosing your option (401(k) and no pension) did that force you to pay into social security?

I still pay into Social Security, I wasn't offered the ability to opt out.

> I, for one, will deal with some idiocy to guarantee a safe and secure retirement.

The potential for idiocy negates any guarantee for a safe and secure retirement. If they're idiots they'll lose your money. Anyways, if that's your preference why not take the cash and give the money to an investment manager of your choosing? Why let your employer choose the investment manager and force it on all your coworkers?

> Regardless of who is in charge, the switch has nothing to do with the people managing them and only to do with saving the company money.

Oh yeah, no doubt. But hypothetically, given the same present value, I would rather take cash over a pension plan that may or may not be managed well and exist in 40 years.

>I, for one, will deal with some idiocy to guarantee a safe and secure retirement.

There's no magic behind the management of pension funds; they're utilizing the same markets. So how can they "guarantee a safe and secure retirement"?

They can't and that's the problem with them. During boom times they promise the world and in lean times they go bust, or worse, put the onus to pay for it on the next generation (while those people face cuts to their future benefits). No thanks.

Most individual investors in 401k plans get ripped off. They get funneled into high cost funds, get levied high fees and end up with poor investment options. Then when they finally retire, they get ripped off again by annuity providers.

Pensions are almost always better for the worker. The issues on the employer side are almost always a result of underfunding, or “diversion" of employee funds for some short term crisis.

>Pensions are almost always better for the worker. The issues on the employer side are almost always a result of underfunding, or “diversion" of employee funds for some short term crisis.

So they're a better deal except when they're not in that you can lose it all or have your benefits drastically reduced through bankruptcy etc.

More broadly, defined-benefit pension plans were designed for a world where you expected to work your career at the same organization. Pensions tend to make it very expensive to move around companies. (Hence, people in the US military sticking around for their 20 year mark for example.) It's very much a related problem to health care being tied to employment.

FYI. The same people ignoring their fiduciary responsibility are managing your mutual funds.

It's worth remembering that a pension is not an asset you own but rather a liability on the company's balance sheet and can be discharged in any one of a number of ways. I vastly prefer 401(k)s, IRAs or even taxable investment accounts because you not only actually own them, but they allow employees to decide for themselves how much they want to save for the future.

All employees receive that same contribution makes you upset? My company contributes the same to everyone (0%). I don't have a pension either. Please get up in arms for me. Stupid startups and their fiscally responsible benefits!

The company was doing badly. No new pensions. The company stays alive under new ownership, after cutting fat. This is probably bad business but the good business math would have been to let them fold. Take your pick.

The idea of having your retirement income be the responsibility of the employer is archaic and ridiculous. Thank god it's dying.

It's a massive advantage for large corporations in their battle against innovative startups. Who would ever join a startup if it meant that you might be penniless in retirement? (Because you depended on a failed company instead of personal or social savings.)

I like your logic- to make sure startups and corporations are on a level playing field, let's take away everyone's retirement!

It's not about catching up & competing, it's about dragging them down to our level!

First of all, I never said you should take away people's requirement. I think the total amount of money dedicated to retirement should be the same or more.

Rather, it should be in the form of either individual accounts or nationalized.

Do you know of a magical source of money from which we can fund the rights you seem to think are being denied?

Snark aside, I think we have an extremely big problem on our hands, in a sense this big bucket of money does exist, it is in the bank accounts of the 1%. Now who that money "belongs" to is kind of a fun but futile philosophical argument, the fact of the matter is a LOT of people are going to be reaching retirement age without the funds necessary to sustain an even remotely pleasant lifestyle, with (in my opinion) very little correlation to each individual's contribution to society throughout their lifetime.

> Snark aside, I think we have an extremely big problem on our hands, in a sense this big bucket of money does exist, it is in the bank accounts of the 1%. Now who that money "belongs" to is kind of a fun but futile philosophical argument, the fact of the matter is a LOT of people are going to be reaching retirement age without the funds necessary to sustain an even remotely pleasant lifestyle, with (in my opinion) very little correlation to each individual's contribution to society throughout their lifetime.

That's what scares me to death. I've spent my entire working life scrimping and saving. I haven't had the fun lifestyles, the swanky apartments or the fancy cars that many others I've personally known have had. As a result, I have accumulated a sizable sum. Meanwhile, I personally know people a few years younger than me with zero savings, not even cash, who literally live paycheque to paycheque, despite making roughly what I make.

When they are no longer able to work, the only possible thing will be for the State to rob that nest egg I've been accumulating and sacrificing for, in order to finance their retirements. Whether it's tax-deferred or tax-exempt, I know that I am going to lose the vast majority of that money. It'd be inhuman to let them starve on the street, and so my own dwindling years will be impoverished.

I should have just lived high on the hog like everyone else.

Not being too familiar with US pension schemes, could you elaborate why you expect to end up paying for this personally? Aren't your private pension savings comparable to other private assets?

The exact mechanism is not important, but in general your parent is afraid that an overburned underfunded social welfare system will set its eyes on private retirement savings accounts, and begin taxing them heavily.

> Not being too familiar with US pension schemes, could you elaborate why you expect to end up paying for this personally?

Because they have no money and I have a fair amount, and because letting them starve on the street would be unfair. Someone's going to have to finance their waning years.

Retirement options in the US:

* 401(k) or similar. These are usually tax advantaged (no tax up front, but taxed on payout; taxed up front, but no tax on earnings at payout). Usually very limited investment options (bonds, domestic markets, international markets). Which investment options depends on who your employer selects as the manager for the 401(k). Typically funded entirely by your own money, may get some matching (3-10% of your annual salary). Capped at various amounts (401k is capped at $18k/year right now) depending on the particular one.

* IRAs. Similar tax advantages to 401(k), many more investment options (essentially any bank/investment account can be used so the full market is at your disposal). Capped at $5500/year right now, entirely your own funds, your employer is uninvolved.

* Social Security - outside state employees and maybe some federal employee, everyone is supposed to be paying into this as a payroll tax (6% from you, matched by your employer). You can start collecting at 62 with penalties, 67 (?) for full amount.

* Pensions - very few companies offer these anymore, really only the big ones and often the result of union actions. In theory, a lifetime guaranteed income starting either on retirement or at a certain age. Usually a percentage of your annual income (or high 3-year average or similar) based on number of years of service. FERS (the federal pension) works by giving 1% per year of service of your high 3-year average. Collectible at 58 with at least 5 years of service and a penalty, 62 (?) with no penalty. Graduated penalty between those two ages. If you hit 20 or 30 years of service it changes when you can collect and what penalties apply.

In theory, corporate pensions encourage employees to stick with it for the longhaul. But at the rate employees get screwed, it's not the most compelling thing anymore.

With regard to your specific question. Some people seem to get scared that private retirement accounts will suddenly be taken by the federal government or have much higher taxes/penalties applied. This seems incredibly unlikely to me, and would require the US federal government to be in severe fiscal distress. It would devastate several generations of workers, and completely remove any trust in the US dollar and government by most people. It would be a moronic move, though not entirely impossible. There is some precedence (see [1]). But given the reaction, I can't imagine them repeating that.

It makes sense to discount the future value of Social Security and corporate pensions when planning for retirement. But 401(k) (and similar) and IRAs are unlikely to be touched, IMHO.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Order_6102

I did the same but decided to blow it all up in the stock market. :(

>a LOT of people are going to be reaching retirement age without the funds necessary to sustain an even remotely pleasant lifestyle

Your inane snark about "the 1%" aside (whom, by definition, own the big bucket of money. Not exactly a revelation), I agree that the lack of money that most people have saved for retirement is going to be a disaster. It's equally bad up here in Canada.

How is that remark inane? As I see it, the concentration of wealth in the top x% is precisely the problem we are facing. Our productive capacity of a society has never been higher, but the fruits of that labour are not being broadly distributed, and it is exacerbated in certain places (Canada being one) by the simultaneous existence of an absolutely massive real estate bubble. It's an excellent recipe for disaster.

"Please watch your inbox for important information about your employment status tomorrow. [...] Looking ahead, I am confident National Geographic’s mission will be fulfilled in powerful, new and impactful ways, as we continue to change the world through science, exploration, education and storytelling."

Why do CEO-types feel the need to write these bad-news emails like they were some kind of press-release?

It lets the employees know it isn't personal. Something, something, consoling, something, something, moving onto new horizons.

It's neutral speak to avoid a lawsuit, let people know it isn't personal, and to sound professional if (when) it is sent to the press.

"Please watch your inbox tomorrow" is a terrible way to officially tell someone they may be laid off.

Certainly a good way to stop all work at a company until those emails go out.

I really hate "professionalism". Yes, it's not personal, but only because the persons who are affected by this, are not seen as persons by management.

I agree with you. This approach is just a hand-wringing attempt to weasel out of the blame.

It's easy to poke fun at people writing these emails until you have to write one yourself. Then, not so much.

Big changes have consequences, and trying to be too 'caring' or personal can lead to further problems. There were a couple of threads on hotmail a few months ago that covered it well.

But the basic fact is that these types of emails have been A/B tested over time and you're looking at the winning format.

Consider that it may not be them that wrote the e-mail as much as their own internal PR department. I've been censored within my own company before and I'm not even an executive, and considering the legal impact of almost every memo sent out, legal teams are constantly reviewing everything a Fortune 500 CEO would be writing out up to and perhaps even including his grocery list to his personal assistants.

I am a long time subscriber. We jokingly call it "Earth is Dying Magazine" in our house because more often than not these days the cover is trumpeting some very dire environmental issue.

Will be sad to see it go, if that's where this is headed.

As a kid I was surrounded by my dad's massive National Geographic collection, so I've always been nostalgic about it. Some of those photo essays are permanently seared in my brain (ultralights!).

A few years ago I picked up a copy at the doctor's office and had time to read an article or two. The photos were nice as ever, but the writing was depressingly shallow and facile.

Maybe they figured out long ago that most of their subscribers, like my dad, never actually read the thing.

The company was purchased by Rupert Murdoch (or one of his subsidiaries) and the first layoffs were to the fact-checking department.

Of course they were. I think that kind of sets the tone for what NatGeo will become going forward. For an idea of what will happen just look at the History Channel.

>For an idea of what will happen just look at the History Channel.

The History Channel did what most media does and started to appeal to the masses to make money. They're literally producing what people want to watch.

It's like when people complain about shows like American idol, or Honey-Boo-Boo, all the while the shows are crushing the viewership ratings.

That's such a self-fulfilling prophecy and dangerously close to circular logic and victim blaming. The people want this crap, that's why we give them more crap! The people are getting stupider because of this crap, so that's why they want more, so lets give it to them! Before you know it if nothing stops the spiral it's going to be fucking idiocracy controlled by the oligarchy!

Is it just me or does this mentality totally forget that the airwaves were public and we gave the companies access to them in exchange for a public service (which started out as nightly prime-time news.)

The airwaves belong to us, and if the corporations are so enamoured by pure monetary/viewership gains, and have forgotten the original edict and goals, not to mention potential uses for good of such widespread communications, we need to remove their right to the airwaves and bring them back under the public sphere.

Our population is being dumbed down by the media, while it could be doing the opposite.

I'll say it again, the airwaves should belong to the public.

Reminds me of a favorite Steve Jobs quote:

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”

I would say Operation Mockingbird never went away and the conspiratorial view is the correct one. Media was never just about giving the people what they wanted, it was about telling them what they wanted in the first place, with a side effect of mass control.

Yes they did, they were making money anyway in their own specific niche, they just wanted a piece of the larger pie and for that they thre out any ideals they had. I am suggesting that NatGeo will go the same way, instead of documentaries on Hyenas or the lifecycle of turtles we will get the history of dragons, the lifecycle of griffins or even the dietary habits of werewolves.

So what? Just because you have sentimental feelings towards NatGeo doesn't mean they have to adhere to what you seem suitable to be their business model. If they leave a void of unfulfilled demand, it will be filled and quickly, don't fret about it.

Not at all, but I can lament the potential loss of what has been a great resource to date.

Right, they chose profitable crap over quality.

Many more articles on what aliens were up to a long time ago?

He hasn't bought it yet.

That's not what the first line of the article says:

"The National Geographic Society of Washington will lay off about 180 of its 2,000 employees in a cost-cutting move that follows the sale of its famous magazine and other assets to a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch."

The deal has been announced but it hasn't actually been completed yet. Though obviously the layoffs are part of the process before the sale is final.

News reports very frequently treat deals that have been announced as complete long before they are finalized, even if government approval is not guaranteed (e.g., some of the early coverage of the proposed Comcast-TWC merger said "Comcast has bought...").

And yet later in that same article:

"The deal, which will close in mid-November, precipitated concerns about layoffs at the organization..."

I suppose it's just semantics at this point.

"Several people in the channel’s fact-checking department, for example, were terminated on Tuesday, employees said."

Rough, talk about a job sector in decline.. Maybe Buzzfeed is hiring? ;)

After for subscribing for 20 years I fell out with NG after repeated attempts to renew with a credit card simply failed. They wouldn't even let me send them a check. I found it to be a curious indicator of decline.

A year later when I was considering trying again I came across a racist historical re-enactment video of theirs depicting medieval Malian sultan Mansa Musa as a grunting savage. Just not feeling them any more.

So on a somewhat unrelated note, this is what I fear Dell will do to EMC & VMware.

Dell's background is cheap computers. EMC service is pricy but top-notch. The engineers there have been nothing but fantastic to work with and I fear with this acquisition that this is all going to go away because Dell can't get the value proposition out of their DNA.

how does a nonprofit 'sell itself' to a for-profit entity? my understanding of how nonprofit charters work is that when a charitable organization decides its operations are no longer sustainable, it must be 'taken over' by another nonprofit or else simply dissolved altogether. (edited for concision)

Some of the nuance has been lost in the media coverage. The National Geographic Society will still exist as a non-profit, but it is selling control of its media assets to Fox (and presumably would use the proceeds to fund its remaining charitable work).

Does the IRS look into sales like this to ensure that the assets were sold for a reasonable price? It seems like that would be a pretty big loophole if not.

I'm missing why it's a loophole. Under what circumstances would both parties agree to a sale at an unreasonable price?

reminds me of the Secret Life of Walter Mitty where traditional film and paper were being replaced by digital media

Google should've bought them.

"Nationalize it." - Peter Tosh

National Idiocracy

Terribly depressing. I've been buying NG for a decade and now have a whole row in my bookshelf of yellow spines. It is very disheartening to think that something as political as Fox and Murdoch can have 73% control of it and presumably influence it editorially, as well as using it to uplift and give weight to the Fox brand :(

> It is very disheartening to think that something as political as Fox and Murdoch can have 73% control of it and presumably influence it editorially

Have you been reading NatGeo this past decade? It's already become as political as one can imagine, just in the other direction.

> Have you been reading NatGeo this past decade?

I have read it cover-to-cover every time. I've thought it getting more pro-oil pro-banking, actually, so that just shows how subjective these things are.

I'm a brit abroad and I wish it had a more science, nature, anthropology and everything else slant. Last months article on the new missing link finds was really interesting, but I won't miss all the American-centric stories one iota.

Don't tell me boxes of yellow magazines since year 1985 and now i'm thinking in cancel my subscription.

Is there a good alternative?

I planned to subscribe after I moved house, but the Murdoch purchase was announced in-between.

Smithsonian is pretty good. They don't do the maps and pullouts but they cover lots of similar ground (and are also a non-profit).

I like the Smithsonian but the whole change of requiring print subscribers to re-purchase the digital copy, with no forewarning...just applied the changes in an app update made me cancel my subscription. It's unfortunate because I like the magazine and the organization but the only way I can fight practices like that is to simply not give them money.

Edit: same for NatGeo, long time subscriber that cancelled because I refuse to knowingly give a dime to Murdoch and Co.

Here are the emails in full. Shocking stuff.


"We will evolve. We will create impact. We will change the world."

Just fuck off.

Would be nice to have an up-to-date, in-depth list of all arms of the Murdoch media empire... Here's a starting point: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CSngE68UcAA1mn5.png

#BoycottMurdochMedia !

idk if you're aware, but this isn't twitter.

Yes, apologies if unnecessary... But you tend to build up a certain dislike for someone like murdoch after seeing the same old fear-mongering crap in all his newspapers for years. I like to boycott people who take a lot and give very little back from society.

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