National Geographic lays off all staff writers and will stop US newsstand sales

New article assignments will be contracted to freelancers or pieced together by few editors remaining on staff, reports say

Nineteen editorial staffers at National Geographic will lose their jobs, according to the Washington Post. AP
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National Geographic, the famous yellow-framed magazine, has laid off its last remaining staff writers and will no longer be sold on US newsstands, according to employees and media reports.

The layoffs involved 19 editorial staffers, who were notified in April that these terminations were coming, the Washington Post reported.

Article assignments will be contracted to freelancers or pieced together by the few editors remaining on staff. The cuts also eliminated the magazine’s small audio department, the report said.

The Washington-based magazine, which has surveyed science and the natural world for 135 years, will no longer be available on newsstands in the US as of next year, the newspaper reported.

Many departing employees confirmed the news on Twitter.

“NatGeo is laying off all of its staff writers,” tweeted Craig Welch, one of National Geographic’s now former senior writers.

“I’ve been so lucky. I got to work with incredible journalists and tell important, global stories. It’s been an honour.”

The journalist Doug Main said on Twitter on Tuesday: “National Geographic is laying off its staff writers, including me.”

The layoffs at National Geographic by the publication’s parent company, Disney, were the second over the past nine months, and the fourth since a series of ownership changes began in 2015, The Post reported.

In September, Disney removed six top editors in a reorganisation of the magazine’s editorial operations.

Staffing changes will not affect the company’s plans to continue publishing a monthly magazine “but rather give us more flexibility to tell different stories and meet our audiences where they are across our many platforms”, National Geographic spokesman Chris Albert told the newspaper.

National Geographic’s new editor-in-chief Nathan Lump told Axios News in a November interview that the outlet plans to invest more in social video as the brand continues to modernise.

However, the company doesn’t plan to reduce its monthly print magazine publishing schedule, despite its shift to digital, he had said.

Mr Lump said he’s trying to expand the company’s digital footprint to include more short-form video, specifically via TikTok and Instagram Reels.

In the future, he wants more National Geographic stories, whether in print or online, to originate from social videos captured in the field.

“Our incredible social reach is largely based on our strength on Instagram, which is based on our strength in photography, which is great,” he said.

“But obviously, we know that video is driving a lot of engagement in social, and that’s where a lot of growth is in terms of engagement and users and social platforms. And so we need to put a lot more emphasis there.”

National Geographic is mostly owned by Disney, which acquired a majority stake in the brand as part of its 2019 deal to purchase Fox media assets.

At its peak in the late 1980s, the magazine reached 12 million subscribers in the US and millions more overseas, according to The Post.

It remains among the most widely read magazines in America. At the end of 2022, it had just under 1.8 million subscribers, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

National Geographic was launched by Washington’s National Geographic Society, a foundation formed by 33 academics, scientists and would-be adventurers, including Alexander Graham Bell.

The magazine was initially sold to the public as a perk for joining the society. It grew into a stand-alone publication slowly but steadily, reaching 1 million subscribers by the 1930s.

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The job cuts at National Geographic follow a series of layoffs in the media industry in recent months amid a challenging period that is forcing them to cut costs to survive a weak advertising market.

In an email sent to staff in April, online media outlet BuzzFeed said it is laying off 15 per cent of its staff members and shutting down its news unit as part of efforts to reduce spending and save capital, the company’s chief executive Jonah Peretti said.

The terminations will affect about 180 employees across the company’s content, administration, business, and technology teams.

This was the second round of layoffs within five months at BuzzFeed – in December, the company had announced plans to cut its workforce by about 12 per cent.

Vice Media Group, known for popular websites including Vice and Motherboard, laid off about a dozen employees and filed for bankruptcy protection in May to engineer its sale to a group of lenders.

Updated: June 29, 2023, 5:50 AM