National Geographic magazine fires six of its top editors

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National Geographic magazine, the venerable journal of science, history and the natural world, fired six of its top editors last week in an extraordinary reorganization of its editorial ranks.

The high-profile cuts are unusual for any established magazine, and they are unprecedented for National Geographic, which has enjoyed stable editorial leadership since its founding by Washington’s National Geographic Society in 1888.

The magazine and its news site, which are based in Washington, have since 2019 been owned by Walt Disney Co., which acquired a majority stake in the popular yellow-bordered publication as part of its $71 billion purchase of Rupert Murdoch-controlled 21st Century Fox. The magazine suffered large cuts under Fox in 2015 and after the 2019 sale to Disney. (The National Geographic Society remains a minority partner.)

The new layoffs, revealed to staff late last week, involved editors whose names appeared on the magazine’s letterhead, including editor-in-chief Indira Lakshmanan. It also involved editors in charge of long articles and specialized subjects, such as science, travel, the environment and animals. Lakshmanan did not respond to requests for comment.

Additionally, historical and cultural content editor Debra Adams Simmons has been promoted to vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at National Geographic Media, which oversees the magazine and website. .

The cuts surprised and alarmed people at the magazine, which employs around 125 people on the editorial side. In internal discussions, several staffers called the firings a “red wedding,” a reference to a massacre depicted in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

The cuts come three months after the appointment of a new editor, Nathan Lump, a former Condé Nast and New York Times editor who most recently worked for travel site Expedia. Lump is only the 11th person to serve as the magazine’s editor since its inception nearly 134 years ago.

In a note to staff after Inside News last week, Lump wrote: “To say that today is a difficult day is an understatement. These times of change are difficult in many ways, not least because it is so difficult to see the roles of close colleagues impacted.

Lump referred a request for comment to a Disney spokesperson, who declined to comment. The spokeswoman, Fonda Berosini, referred to a memo sent last week by David Miller, executive vice president of National Geographic Media.

Miller, in his memo, put a positive spin on the cuts. The magazine, he said, was “realigning key departments to help deepen engagement with our readers while nurturing existing business models and developing new revenue streams.” He added: “Ultimately, these changes will enable greater growth of our staff and talent, expand our storytelling opportunities and enrich our relationship with readers, all of which positions us for greater success at the coming.”

But another employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his job, described the loss of reputable publishers as a “desperate cost-cutting measure”.

National Geographic has been one of the country’s best-selling magazines for decades. As late as 2013, it sold around 4 million copies per month. But like many print publications, its circulation has plummeted in the digital age. In June, its monthly circulation was about 1.8 million copies, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

Its website drew around 12.4 million total visits in June, according to estimates by Similarweb, putting it far behind other mainstream news, science and information sites.

Managers have scheduled a staff-wide meeting on Wednesday to discuss the changes.