A couple of weeks ago it was abruptly announced that the trusted, revered, venerable National Geographic Magazine had been sold to the Rupert Murdoch publishing empire.
This news came as a shock, for a number of reasons. I hadn't heard the magazine was in financial trouble, at least not any more than any other print publication these days. The old owners and the new seemed to be diametric philosophic opposites. It's sad to see a bit of U.S. history pass from the scene. And of course it's always a little discombobulating to hear of the death of an old friend (because really, isn't it impossible to conceive of the magazine surviving this sale in any recognizable form? .
My association with "National Geo" began in the mid-1950s, or perhaps earlier. I think my first exposure to it may have been in the dusty attic of my grandmother's house in Lawrence, Kansas, where my grandfather, before his death, had stored all his copies, row upon row of them dating back to the 1890s as I recall. On our rare family visits to "grandma's house", I often found myself pointed toward these fascinating old yellow-bordered journals as a way of keeping me occupied.
At any rate, I became a fan. But the magazine was available only through "membership" in the Society, and was seldom seen on newsstands. We lived in California during that period, and my dad found a newsstand in Pacific Grove that was known to receive a few copies every month. The owner would reserve a copy for us, and Dad would drive me over there from Fort Ord to pick it up. That didn't last long, though - this little repetitive errand was not the kind of thing my father enjoyed, so by the end of 1956, I found myself duly enrolled via a gift membership in the Society, which brought the magazine with it. In just a few months, I will have been a member for 60 years.
That's the sad and nostalgic part.
On the other hand, sometimes when a friend is seriously ill and you see him/her declining seriously, maybe in pain, you may feel thankful, for his sake, when he passes away. So it was, and is, with National Geo Dire profit/loss handwriting was on the wall, and press reports in the Washington area (home of the NGS) have credited the Society with timely businesslike thinking, in dumping a losing proposition before it was visibly decrepit.
And I had noticed quality going down. Over the past few years I had found myself renewing only through inertia. While the photographs that made the magazine famous * continued month after month, and topics were often interesting, the writing had become predictable and boring, each item beginning in exactly the same formulaic way. And oddly, in retirement, I found my time for reading was less, not more. Issues stacked up and often ended by being thrown away unread. The renewal request has been on my desk now for at least two months, as I took care of other matters and debated whether I should bother extending.
Now, I know what to do.
* Many people have told me over the years that they really look forward mostly to the impressive photos the magazine is so famous for. So many, in fact, that I'm inclined to be doubtful when someone says they really groove on the articles. What an interesting coincidence of profile with another magazine: Playboy. I remember that some people in my college years used to say that they bought Playboy magazine "for the articles, not the pictures," a claim that usually and justifiably would be received with doubting looks and exclamations of incredulity.