Following the takeover of National Geographic from its original non-profit parent by a consortium headed by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, the new ownership has moved promptly to decimate its magazine staff. Actually, that word is unusually accurate. “Decimation” originally referred to the Roman military practice of killing one in ten of a cohort’s troops as a collective punishment. And NatGeo‘s new owners have reportedly sacked around 9 percent of its staff, including some significant award-winning talents.
Reports from the Washington Post that these cuts represent the biggest layoffs in NatGeo‘s history are apparently not strictly correct. However, the coverage from the National Press Photographers Association has to be taken as accurate. After all, the NPPA is probably one of the closest associations to NatGeo and its staff. And according to their sources, some 180 personnel were let go, following receipt of an email from Gary Knell, NatGeo CEO. Staff lost include key picture editors, photo editors, designers, and last but not least, photographers.
Knell’s email alerted staff to be ready for important messages regarding their future on November 3rd, and concluded:
Please watch your inbox for important information about your employment status tomorrow. I cannot thank you enough for your patience and hard work over the last few months. I am proud of how our teams and our organization have approached and responded to this transitional period. 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.
A follow-up email issued on November 3rd began:
To change the world through science, exploration, education and storytelling has never been as important as it is today. We are transforming National Geographic to be better positioned than ever to deliver on this mission.
Opinions will obviously differ on how far Knell’s words have been borne out by these actions. But it looks like some of the worst fears about the new Murdoch ownership’s treatment of NatGeo’s trove of legacy assets are already being realized, before the transition process is even completed. After all, the current human assets seem to have received short shrift.