What the hell happened to National Geographic?

Well, we know that the Murdoch family and their Fox organization took over the magazine rag at the end of 2015. As the Guardian reported then, the magazine was bleeding money, and after the takeover a lot of people either quit or were fired.  And now, it seems, the magazine is turning into a tabloid, one with strong religious overtones. If you go to the National Geographic Shop, for instance, you’ll find this (I believe this issue came out in the spring):


And this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 7.55.30 AM

Now reader James Blilie sent me an advertisement for a book that came in a card inset into his latest issue. James’s words and then the ad:

National Geographic, post-Murdoch, has slid downhill rapidly.  They recently had cover stories about: Mary (the fictional Mary of the Jesus story) and “life after death”, which included several two-page spread photos and took up a large percentage of the issue.  I’ve been meaning to send a letter to NG letting them know that I will no longer read their magazine due to its abandonment of science-based journalism; but this, enclosed with the most recent issue, may push me over to finally write that letter.
NG has stooped to publishing “biographies” of fictional religious figures (see attached scan). What’s next, an illustrated biography of Heathcliff or Jean Valjean?

Ah, when I think about how much I loved the magazine as a child, and how eagerly I tore through each issue to learn about the world, and admire the fantastic photos—it almost makes me weep. Well, not really. If they’re going to ruin their reputation with junk like this, that’s their prerogative. I no longer subscribe, and many people seem to be cancelling their subscriptions in view of the new Murdoch ownership. God knows (that’s a metaphor) what their television channel is up to.

We know nothing about Jesus except for the highly suspect stories in the Bible, and there’s even doubt about whether the Jesus myth accreted around a real person. Do you think National Geographic mentions that in this book? I doubt it. They once got children like me excited about the world; now they peddle damaging myths to children.



  1. reasonshark
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    This raises the question of which – if any – magazine is going to carry on in the old NatGeo’s stead? It’s saddening to think we will not see its like again. 😦

    • phoffman56
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      It won’t “carry on –“, but you could try Canadian Geographic, which compared to NG has been much more interested in science, and much less in photography, since 1975 or earlier! It’s not really a magazine for young children or their mental equivalents.

      • Posted July 15, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for this information. I cancelled my National Geographic subscription months ago after many years of subscribing. I’ll look for Canadian Geographic.

  2. Posted July 15, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    “… how much I loved the magazine as a child, and how eagerly I tore through each issue to learn about the world, and admire the fantastic photo—it almost makes me weep.”

    Me too.

    If we were paying for the subscription, I would cancel it with the letter mentioned. However one of our relatives is giving us a gift subscription. I may ask them to “not bother” in future.

    At this point, I just can’t get past the baloney, as portrayed well by the cover you show in this post, to even bother to see if there’s anything of substance in the rest of the issue.

    I have stopped reading NG, which I never thought would happen.

    Murdoch – 1
    Science – nil
    Me – nil

  3. Posted July 15, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    This was inevitable. I cancelled my subscription as soon as the completed purchase was announced.

    I think the old Nat Geo, as problematic as it could be in some respects, is a good example of a kind of publishing that is disadvantaged in the current heavily corporate media environment.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      I agree. At its peak it was a thickish mag with very high quality print and pictures and writing, and a rather low density of ads restricted to the beginning and end. This could not survive.

  4. Colin
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Unless they reveal that the Jesus character is indeed just a story – a myth. I won’t hold my breath.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Unless, of course, they also investigate the authenticity of Muhammad and the Koran.

      Synchronised not-holding-of-breath – a new Olympic sport?

      • Colin
        Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        At least we know there was an actual Muhammad (a barbaric warlord and pedophile), but a Jesus ? Not so much.

  5. rickflick
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I suppose the best way to view such things is to say – all things run in cycles. Goodbye NG, hello…something else.

  6. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I looked up my small hometown newspaper (Rochester, Michigan) on the internet and to my surprise, I discovered it was owned by a conglomerate that owned HUNDREDS of small-town newspapers. I suspect there is no independent journalism anymore.

    • Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      That’s why we are gathering on blogs like this and grateful to our hosts.

  7. Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Replete with award-winning, 35mm, telephoto images of Jebus traipsing through the sand.

  8. Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I didn’t renew my subscription in the spring of this year. One of the last issues I’d received was enough for me to gag. It’s always been one of my favorite magazines of all time since before I was even able to read as the photos alone were stunning. Farewell to one of the best magazines ever…whimper.

  9. Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    And it’s not just religion to which NG has succumbed. I recently saw an issue with Alexander Hamilton on the cover, over which the text read “Hamilton: America’s hottest founding father”. I fully expect that inside I would’ve found listicles detailing Hamilton’s favorite bars and how he spiced things up in the bedroom.

  10. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    There’s a big showing – meaning lots of titles, formats – of the NG brand in the children’s section of the public library (DAMHIKT). I have to say, they’ve been really good. Not that I understand it vis-a-vis the things I hear re Rupert Murdoch.

  11. Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    It really needs to change its name to National Theographic.

    • Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      I’m writin’ that shit down … (to use in my letter to NG.)

    • Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink


    • Posted July 16, 2016 at 4:37 am | Permalink


      • Mike
        Posted July 16, 2016 at 6:37 am | Permalink

        Wish I’d thought of that.lol my own response? F.F.S

  12. RPGNo1
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    The German Edition of NG did not stoop to such lowly grounds (until now). They have their own editorial staff and only selected US-reports are translated and published.

  13. Dominic
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Usually I see it only in the waiting room at the dentist…

  14. Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Soon, they’ll take out the pics of ladies with naked breasts that we all liked to look at when I was a kid. (That may have been before you were…) 😉

    Anyway, I dropped them several years back. Couldn’t stand the standardized writing.

    • Art
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Well, as a kid I was interested only in reading the informative articles. Rarely did my eyes wander to the pictures of exotically beautiful, scantily clad Polynesian(and other)girls….

      • Posted July 15, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 22, 2016 at 5:29 am | Permalink

        Yeah, and I only used to read it for the articles too.

        Umm, no, sorry, that was Playboy.

        No, wait….


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted July 22, 2016 at 5:55 am | Permalink

          Come to think of it, if one got a 80’s Playboy and excerpted the ‘serious’ i.e. non-salacious articles – such as the Playboy Interviews with various prominent public figures or artists – and compared it with the articles in today’s National Geographic, I wonder which would win?

          I genuinely don’t know the answer to that. Once, it would have been a safe bet.


  15. docbill1351
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    My parents had Nat Geo going back to the 40’s and kept every one. They let me cut pictures and maps out for school projects, etc.

    Shortly after I became gainfully employed the first thing I did was subscribe to Nat Geo and kept it up for 25 years. However, both Nat Geo and Sci Am seemed to go into decline about the same time and I dropped both.

    Nat Geo photography was always stunning, but now on the Internet stunning nature photos are plentiful and easy to find. Reader’s photos, here, included!

  16. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I’ve got it : NG Classic

    Reprints of your old faves :

    the girl with Those Eyes
    The Dinosaur one (oh best beloved)
    The one that says “taking it to the limit” – which confused me because I thought it was that song on the radio.
    The one with the smiling gold lion guy thing artifact
    The Angkor Wat one
    … oh there’s a pile more…

    In that case, everyone would win.

  17. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    If you go to the National Geographic Shop, for instance, you’ll find this (I believe this issue came out in the spring):

    That appears to be a “special topic” issue, not a regular monthly issue. I still subscribe, until the end of this year, and I didn’t see it.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      “National Geographic The Story of Jesus Special Issue Item #2004077”

      Followed your link, that is clearly labeled as a “Special Issue.” It was not a regular monthly edition of the magazine.

      • Posted July 15, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        However, the NG magazine issue on mother Mary was a “regular” issue, I believe. The “special” issues on these religious subjects taint the brand name of all they produce.

  18. moleatthecounter
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Didn’t NG also produce a cover featuring Mary? ‘The most important woman in the world’ I think…

    Al Lee

  19. colnago80
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I have been downloading a number of NG documentaries and it is obvious that the quality has deteriorated since January. Like everything Murdock touches, it appeals to the lowest common denominator.


  20. walkingmap
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    “sigh” the magazine whose pages, in my childhood, opened my eyes to wonderful world of women’s breasts has sunk this low “sigh” …
    at least the photography is still first rate

  21. Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    The more (ex-)readers cancel their subscriptions, the better. The Murdoch people do not give a damn about Christianity; they publish such stuff because it sells. If there are enough enlightened consumers to reverse the demand trend, the magazine will reverse its policy as well – or, at least, a new nice magazine will appear to fill the niche.

    BTW, I have interest in mythology, archaeology and the link between them. I would actually like to read serious articles comparing the Judeo-Christian mythology with archaeological evidence. However, I rarely find high-quality writing because of the interference of Christian fundamentalism. E.g. when it is about Greek mythology and historical ancient Greece, you will find cautious discussions whether the individual named “Tawagalawa” in Hittite records may correspond to Greek epic hero Eteocles. But when it is about ancient Judea and Samaria, the historicity of Jesus, Mary etc. is taken for granted by popular media.

    • Posted July 15, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      I also have had a lifelong interest in mythologies of the world, as well as archeology. So much of Judeo-Christian archeology is conducted with the specific aim of proving that a Judeo-Christian myth is real. One can trust that the physical evidence was found (perhaps). One can’t trust what it really was or the interpretation of what it was.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      “The more (ex-)readers cancel their subscriptions, the better. The Murdoch people do not give a damn about Christianity; they publish such stuff because it sells.”

      Sadly, the number of eager new evangelical subscribers may substantially exceed that of their old readership.

    • RPGNo1
      Posted July 16, 2016 at 4:16 am | Permalink

      How about an article, which describes, how “historical criticism” is applied to the Jesus, the biblical story etc.? That would be much more interesting.

  22. Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Playing with the word Jerry taught me in this post, we need to accrete literacy in the minds of the masses, not dumb them with drivel presented as archeology. Odious Murdoch.

    National Geographic was amongst the first print to reach me as a child. I read this issue in May of 1984. Note the mentioning of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. A child of the Arizonian desert, the issue sparked in the mind of a six-year-old the dream of living in the lush land of ferns; I live in Seattle.

    This skeleton was probably the first I’d ever seen, getting me to think about mortality and past civilizations.

  23. Mark R.
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I was a subscriber for years, but upon hearing of Murdoch’s takeover last year, I wrote them a strident letter and cancelled my subscription.

    They actually wrote back saying that NG will not change because of Murdoch’s takeover. Yeah, right…what a bunch of horseshit.

    I’m sorry that I had to cancel, but glad that I did.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      In fairness, the religious pandering seems to have increased, but it is not completely new. They ran a lengthy article “In the Footsteps of the Apostles” in 2012. Their attitude seems to be “who cares if it’s true, followers believe it.”

  24. David Duncan
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I let my subscription lapse 10-15 years ago. Everything Murdoch touches turns to rust.

  25. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    What happened to NatGeo? Murdoch took it over. All the rest follows as night follows day.

  26. Roger
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I guess they know where the easy suckers are.

  27. Posted July 15, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    My parents have received NG for longer than I’ve been alive. I have still liked visiting and picking up the latest from time to time. Now, ugh …

  28. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    No, no, you got it all wrong, man. NatGeo’s become a Lebowski-cult fan-mag. This issue’s all about “the Jesus.”

  29. Barbara Radcliffe
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Like many of those commenting above, I too was a long time subscriber to NG, having first been given it by a favourite uncle. After the Murdoch takeover, I let my subscription lapse. Now I am plagued by both postal and email messages pleading with me to reconsider. I do wish that they would leave me alone!

  30. Christopher Bonds
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Baaaaarrrrfffff… NG used to be a great magazine. What happened?

  31. somer
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Appalling in what used to be a great publication with fascinating articles (well I once got an annual subscription)- and the pictures are outstanding.
    They will lose their traditional subscribers to this and the worrying thing is some religious subscribers will think this stuff has archeological basis. Its utterly dishonest, but I suppose they don’t care as long as it sells – another ruthless undermining of the press for money analogous in some ways to the phone hacking newspaper scandals that went on in the UK

  32. Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I no longer receive letters informing me that I have been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society. I think the Murdochs have struck me off their list of potentially suitable members.

  33. lonefreethinkers
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    I want to know your thoughts about capitalism, economics and trade, clearly these three factors influenced the change in national geographic.

  34. keith cook ±
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    Very strange, their.com feeds show no sign of falling into religious poo, I have been expecting it going by previous post… and still has the science, photographs etc…

  35. Posted July 16, 2016 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    Yeah, the Pope Francis cover, the Mary cover and that’s when I cancelled my subscription

  36. Jonathan Dore
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    The key turning point seems to be when NG got into the high-stakes world of TV, making them financially dependent on, and therefore vulnerable to, takeover in a world they had little experience of and couldn’t control. If they had stuck to the magazine, who cares if the subs fell from 15 million twenty years ago to 3.5 million? 3.5 million is still a hell of a subscription base, and they could easily have had a steady increase in price (from its ludicrously low level in the 90s equivalent to, I recall, little more than $1 per issue) to smooth out the decline in income and still be continuing today at a more modest but still sustainable level. The magazine was worth saving, and the tragedy is that those in charge at the time crucial decisions were made were too blinded by the glamour of big money they didn’t care enough to see what a Faustian bargain they were getting into.

  37. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    From the depths of the Nat Geo, I bring the iculanibokola.
    Personally, I blame Sandy Toksvig.

  38. Doug Roberts
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    It’s true that the information about Jesus in the Bible consists mostly of unreliable myths and legends, but it is not true that there is no other information about him. There are hundreds of research papers and books written by reputable historians and theologians about the life and times of the man we know as Jesus. Most of the serious writings about him would upset a lot of believers but those with an open mind will find it fascinating.

  39. Andy Blauvelt
    Posted July 18, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I grew up idolizing National Geographic. It greatly shaped my future career as a successful physician-scientist. Now, it is publishing fiction. Why? What happened?

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