There was outrage on social media this past week, when National Geographic laid off roughly 9% of its staff.
In September of this year, National Geographic and Fox announced a partnership.
Critics of the partnership began to wonder how the two could possibly work together. People associated with Fox have been known to deny many of the scientific facts covered in National Geographic. Especially CEO Rupert Murdoch.
Even long-time employees of National Geographic were skeptical.
“I think everybody has some concerns and nobody is quite sure what it means,” photographer, Brian Skerry, told The Guardian. “I can only speak for myself, but I believe we were all thinking the same thing. National Geographic has been autonomous … pretty much forever. It came as a huge surprise.”
When the company issued notice to their staff this week that they would be downsizing, people saw it as proof that Murdoch would be changing things, and not for the better.
One of the people let go was award winning photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols.
“I was getting ready to retire in January. So for me this is kind of a gift. But it’s a sad day for my friends who were not as ready,” Nichols told The Guardian. “I feel for everybody.”
According to Nichols, he received a relatively large severance package and will be allowed to finish up the two-year project he’s been working on.
Nichols was planning to retire anyway, but most of the employees let go by National Geographic were not. Laid off employees received severance packages, but even more were offered the option of splitting from the company voluntarily. A buyout was offered to those employees and they were given a week to decide what to do with it.
“That’s not much time to get ducks in a row,” an anonymous National Geographic employee told The Washington Post. “We’re all poring through [the offer] trying to make sense of it. There’s lots of head-shaking, for sure.”
As news of the layoffs and buyouts hit social media, there was an outcry of anger. Rupert Murdoch set to Twitter to explain what was happening. He stated that the editorial staff and leadership was firmly in place and that only 4 people were laid off from the magazine.
Nat Geo 4 people let go at magazine, remainder by Society in administrative, service department. Editorial staff, leadership firmly in place
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) November 4, 2015
People reacted violently to his tweet. Threatening to cancel their subscriptions, issuing notice that they already have, or reprimanding Murdoch for the layoffs. One man even compared Rupert Murdoch owning National Geographic to what it would be like if the KKK owned Motown.
@rupertmurdoch Oh please, the first of many sackings to come. This is what you do, Rupert. And firing staff by email? Lowlife, coward act.
— The Daily Rupert (@TheMurdochTimes) November 4, 2015
— wajobu (@wajobu) November 4, 2015
@rupertmurdoch The thought of you owning National Geographic is like the KKK owning Motown. Please sell to someone who believes in science
— Tom Conroy (@tmas61) November 5, 2015
Concerns aside, it is important to note that the layoffs were not done by Rupert Murdoch. In fact, the partnership deal between the companies hasn’t yet been completed, though it will be during November.
The email sent to employees notifying them of the layoffs was from National Geographic CEO Gary Knell.
“We’ve said, the truck was on the tracks and the train was approaching. Only now the train is coming faster,” Knell said about what the future looked like for National Geographic without the Fox partnership. “We were looking at millions of dollars in red ink in the future.”
Knell claims he took charge of the layoffs and completed them before the partnership could be finalized in order to be able to control who would continue to work for the company. If he had waited until after the partnership was complete to issue the layoffs and buyouts, his decisions would have mattered much less and Rupert Murdoch would have actually had a hand in letting people go.
In the meantime, Knell is urging fans of National Geographic to give them a chance.
“You can’t prejudge this,” he said. “If in two or three years, if we mess up the [National Geographic] brand, then people will judge us. But give us a chance.”
[ Photo by National Geographic ]