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National Geographic Partners With 21st Century Fox In $725 Million Deal


For the first time since its founding in 1888, National Geographic magazine will become a for-profit publication. It's expanding a partnership with 21st Century Fox. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The National Geographic Society has been known for discovery, education and research since its start. CEO Gary Knell says not much has changed.

GARY KNELL: Its mission is really to use the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world, the diffusion of geographic knowledge, as Alexander Graham Bell called it.

FOLKENFLIK: The society sponsored Admiral Robert Peary's Arctic expedition in 1909. The magazine published adventure journalism, championed color and nature photography. Eighteen years ago, the National Geographic cable TV channel made a debut, and it still offers a modern twist on the mission.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're in Montana for a Lewis and Clark Bonanza.

FOLKENFLIK: That's from diggers, a reality show involving guys with metal detectors. Until now, 21st Century Fox was the 50-50 partner in the TV channel. Fox will pay $725 million for an expanded stake in all of National Geographic's media properties. Fox will own 73 percent of the new partnership, though it is to be jointly controlled. Again, Gary Knell.

KNELL: We did look at, with pressures on print and with pressures in other parts of our enterprise, a future of cost-cutting that would've had to been an exercise in cutting content, cutting science, cutting journalism, cutting exploration, and that's not what we wanted to do.

FOLKENFLIK: So now National Geographic's magazine, its cable channel, its digital offerings, future virtual-reality experiences - whatever - will all be majority-owned by the parent company of the Fox News Channel.

Fox News employees prominent conservative commentators who are outspoken critics of the scientific establishment and even question climate change. James Murdoch is the CEO of 21st Century Fox, and his family controls the publicly traded company. So I asked him, how would the National Geographic titles be affected by their new majority owners?

JAMES MURDOCH: Well, first of all, it won't be. We are a large and diverse media company around the world with lots of different outlets and lots of different creators and voices and journalists in various parts. They don't always agree on things.

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch says 21st Century Fox likes to invest in brands that echo across borders and that the digital age requires unifying National Geographic's titles across all platforms.

MURDOCH: The value of this brand comes from its integrity and, fundamentally, it's authenticity with its customers, and you would never do anything with it that presupposed changing any of that.

FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch said that brand could expand, though, to movies, even attractions, like Busch Gardens, I asked? More to come, he said. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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