November 3, 2015 Last Updated 2:01 pm

Layoffs at National Geographic, less than two months after deal with Rupert Murdoch announced

Partnership deal with 21st Century Fox created a new company, National Geographic Partners, with The National Geographic Society left with a minority position, but with a larger endowment

Two months ago The National Geographic Society announced that it had entered into a deal with Rupert Murdoch whereby 21st Century Fox would take a majority stake in the media properties that were branded National Geographic. The Society received $725 million in the deal, bringing their endowment up to nearly $1 billion in value.

NatGeo-cover-300What observers worried about, of course, was that the National Geographic brand would not end up being worth much in the hands of the tabloid baron, expecting the editorial integrity of the magazine to be compromised, despite that fact that Fox CEO James Murdoch said they “remain fully committed to maintaining the editorial autonomy and integrity of the Geographic.”

Turns out there was more to worry about, like jobs.

“Please watch your inbox for important information about your employment status tomorrow,” Gary Knell, National Geographic Society President and CEO wrote ominously to staff.

The news of the layoffs, likely around 200 positions, comes after the November issue has hit the newsstands. The issue covers climate change, a subject that Rupert Murdoch and his media empire must consider close to heresy. They also come about two weeks before the deal with 21st Century Fox was to close.

Washingtonian received a statement concerning the number of positions being cut: “The entities combined have about 2,000 employees, and all staff have been advised as to their status as of closing. Involuntary separations will represent about 9% of the overall workforce reduction, many in shared services and a voluntary separation offer has also been made to eligible employees.”

The National Geographic magazine has been around since 1888, but it is the TV properties that 21st Century Fox were really after. A new business, National Geographic Partners, was created in the Murdoch deal, with the National Geographic Society left in a minority position, owning 27 percent.

The news of layoffs comes at a surprise to me only because when Murdoch spun-off News Corp he actually left the print side of the business in far better shape than did either Gannett, Tribune Company or other media spin-offs, many of which saddled the new publishing companies with debt, and/or took control over vital digital assets.

That doesn’t appear to be the fate of National Geographic magazine. Instead, it appears that the new owner has dictated that whatever cost cutting they would like to see occur should occur before the acquisition deal is finalized later this month. Unfortunately, this kind of cost cutting is rather common place in M&A deals involving publishing products.

Update: Politico is reporting that there will be a mix of buyouts and layoffs, with some being offered early retirement. That tells me the number of positions cut will be rather significant.

Note: Here is the memo sent to staff by Gary Knell:

To all NGS Staff:

After very careful and serious consideration, we are ready to communicate how our restructuring and transformation will affect each employee at National Geographic. To that end, please make every effort to be available tomorrow, November 3rd, either in your regular work location, and/or by phone.

If you are traveling for business, on vacation or plan to be out for any other reason, please notify Tia Freeman-Evans or Yvonne Perry in HR immediately, so we can make alternative plans to get in touch with you. If you know that someone on your staff will be out of the office on November 3rd, please let Tia or Yvonne know by 3 p.m. (Eastern) today, as well.

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.


This article has been revised and updated several times since originally posting.

  • Douglas hoffman 12 months ago

    This does not bode well for the public that has trusted this magazine.

  • Cody 12 months ago

    When you make a deal with the devil, don’t be surprised when you get burned.

  • Jessie G 12 months ago

    I am a NatGeo employee and wanted to let you know these layoffs were bound to happen regardless of the partnership. To try and suggest otherwise is disingenuous. Although a non-profit, our media properties were trying to compete in an industry that is in disarray. Staff was heavy on the print publication side even though subscriptions have been declining. The revenues generated barely covered operating costs, whereas the revenue generated from our channel partnership with News Corps. provided the organization the ability to fund it’s non-profit efforts of supporting the next generation of scientists, explorers, and storytellers. As a result, a reduction and shifting of resources and skills was on the horizon. It’s easy to blame the boogeyman, but sometimes hard decisions need to be made that will impact good people in order to preserve the larger mission.

    • Helvetica 12 months ago

      I too am an employee of the organization, but you don’t have the story quite right.
      The magazine made a profit of 30 million last year. Hardly a case of revenue barely covering operating expenses.

      • alcko 12 months ago

        I have to agree with Helvetica’s statement. I’m also a current employee of the organization and while some layoffs were inevitable, many of them were related to the partnership and “redundancies in roles” (as a manager said in our team meeting). Some of our people are no longer “needed” because for every person on our side, 21st CF pretty much has an equivalent. What a sad day it was yesterday.

  • John Allen Bankson 12 months ago

    Gary Knell himself should be the first to go simply for using the non-word “impactful.” National Geographic does not need to be brought down to the level of those who say “impactful.”