A Look at National Geographic Magazine

December 28, 2016

 

     National Geographic magazine, without a doubt, plays a pivotal role, not only in magazine journalism, but in journalism as a whole; it gives illumination to the darkness, and highlights the triumphs that occur every day in lesser cared about - and often forgotten - regions of the world. It has two major categories; the first, features short articles from around the world, such as; how pollution in one country can affect the ozone in other parts of the world, or how after thirty-three years as host of The Late Show, David Letterman has turned his comedically insightful observations to calling attention to climate change, and how a team of scientists in Germany has developed a biomechanical solution to infertility. The second group of articles are much longer feature stories, about new trends and old problems, all over the world. One such story, about Rhino horn trafficking, is particularly intriguing as it shows how humankind has become the apex predator. Linking the two categories together shows that there is no species that we cannot conquer, and there is no part of nature that we cannot bend to our will.

     Journalism, as a whole, is society’s window into the world. It gives the citizens the information they need to continue to live their lives as free people. However, it is magazine journalism that can take a reader to even the remotest places in the world. It is the newspapers that will tell us what is happening downtown, it may even give a hint or two on foreign politics and affairs, but magazines, like National Geographic, show us in much greater detail, how everything we do to “enhance” our society alters it in often unintended, and sometimes disastrous, ways. While it is the job of all journalists to report the news accurately and as truthfully as possible; a journalist’s first obligation is to the truth, it is magazine journalism that gives us the in depth stories which can sometimes take months, or even years, to put together. As someone who is studying the craft of journalism, and who also has a large mix of experiences, I have seen firsthand that some of the most important stories, the ones that can affect us all, are often spoken about only briefly in “everyday news”; sometimes they go overlooked altogether. Magazine journalism is like a fresh take on things from people who have had more time to think and investigate; while it may sometimes expand on what we already know from newspapers, it does so with a more refined voice. Of course newspaper journalism, and everyday news is important, we need to know what is happening in our immediately cared about areas in order to be able to operate as a functional society; but for those of us who seek more than just functionality, for those of us who seek harmony, understanding, or any other infinite possibility, magazine journalism gives us the gift of “higher knowledge”, knowledge which may or may not affect us at all, but we are happy – or unhapp­y – just knowing. While I may not personally be affected by Rhino horn trafficking, the fact that there are only 39,000 Rhinos in in the world, and the fact that half of those Rhinos are privately owned, appalls me personally as a member of human species. The fact that humankind, being the dominant species, has come to a point where it uses and abuses the planet and everything on it, as it sees fit, is news that is, without a doubt, important in our everyday society. Magazine journalism gives us the stories that cannot be broken overnight. If one were to think about the theory of the interlocking public, and how the uninterested public can become the interested or even the involved public, then one must surely see how magazine journalism is the bridge by which all the publics cross.

     When I think of everyday news and newspapers, I cannot help but be reminded of the end of the movie Tomorrowland, and by the prediction machine that was ultimately controlling the outcome of the future. We only receive bits and pieces of affairs happening around the world through our newspapers that are “different” every day, and may never print information on a particular subject again; and when each newspaper prints a different fact about the same subject, we must put the pieces together ourselves, which can lead to an infinite number of outcomes. Magazine journalism, which has more time to be developed, makes sense of the bits and pieces of information that we receive every day. While someone may read the newspaper every day and read that another person with a selfie-stick has gotten hurt, if they were to pick up perhaps a National Geographic, they would learn that the act of taking a selfie has gotten more and more young people active in their surroundings; certainly important in an age where most people are inside, glued to some sort of technological device. Magazine journalism goes hand in hand with newspaper journalism, much like the wheels of a clock, they are interlocked, while being free from each other. Newspapers give us our everyday news, while magazines make sense of our crazy world.

     Journalism, as a whole, has many different definitions; to keep the public informed about what is happening in their communities, to spur action amongst the people against an unjust government – much like Sam Adams fanned the flames of revolution with his “Journal of Occurrences” – or to bring people and communities together. Looking at National Geographic magazine from a journalistic point of view, mainly; does it report the news as truthfully as possible? And does it stick to the principles of journalism?  As its main purpose is to inform the reader about what is happening around the world, whether it be through feature articles or artistic expression, I think it holds very strongly the principals of journalism. Using the article about the endless legal battles for and against Rhino horn trafficking as an example; there are but a few people in the high trafficking Rhino regions who are fighting for the Rhinos, having their story told through descriptive language and read by people all over the world, does without a doubt, inform the public about what is happening in the world that may someday affect them; turning them from the uninterested public to the involved public.

      As I commonly refer to and complain about, I believe very strongly that the human species has become the apex predator, all of humankind’s advancements allow us to achieve just about anything, even if that goal is to exterminate an entire species in the name of “health” or “fashion”, there is nothing on this planet that humans cannot dominate or control.  Widespread magazines like National Geographic, do their job in strong, subtle ways; as “they” say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and good journalisms, whether it be feature articles or hard news, should act as good an image as an image.    

     Truth is one of the most important aspects of journalism. Unfortunately, the truth is not always the answer we want to hear, or in some cases even think about, but it must be told; and it must be told with accuracy, another important pillar of journalism. Reading an article that describes, how many Rhinos have their horns hacked out of their skulls with machetes, or how infant Rhinos have their spines broken in order to save a bullet, is an awful truth that all of the people on the planet should know. National Geographic magazine, with its strong narratives, and unbiased attitude, holds tightly to the principle that truth comes first.

     As history shows time and again, all it takes is one article to embolden a spirit, and one spirited flame to ignite a revolution. Journalism has been there for all of it, and in some form or fashion it will be there for the rest. National Geographic, and indeed all magazine journalism, should be viewed as one of the vanguards of society, as it often guards and protects us from ourselves through the art of realization. Whether it be through print or digital technologies, magazine journalism is an important structure in our society, that I’m sure will be here until the end.  

 

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