Why National Geographic Will Survive The Internet

It’s well known that the newspaper business ain’t what it used to be. The internet is where news happens now. Most content online is free, and it’s interactive, and ads can register immediate result tracking unlike the paper world’s print-distribute-hope cycle where only brand advertising derives much benefit. Also, the demographic targeting capabilities of the internet make it more appealing to advertisers.

That’s why newspaper stocks have been decimated. In the last year, The New York Times (NYT) is down 42%, Gannett (GCI) is down 65%, Lee Enterprises (LEE) is down 80%, McClatchy (MNI) is down 84%, and GateHouse Media (GHI) is down 95%.

In my own life, only one print publication has survived my move online: National Geographic. Its high-quality design, outstanding photographs, superb writing, detailed graphics, and bonus maps make it a package that the internet can’t touch. Plus, with most attention spans having now shrunk to the size of mobile phone screens, reading in-depth Geographic articles provides an edge over the message board crowd that scans headlines for two seconds and regurgitates a shopworn comment for one second, scan two, regurgitate one, repeat, repeat, repeat!

No, the Geographic crowd is a thoughtful bunch, unaffiliated with any political party, reporting facts with unrivaled on-the-ground research. An overarching awareness that this is the only planet we have pervades each issue. It reminds us that we’d do well to appreciate what nature has been through, what we’re doing to it, and what the future’s going to be like if we keep on our present path.

The magazine also happens to be a fine bit of research for the global investor, precisely because its angle is not investing. Better than any of the brokerage research on Russia’s current valuation after the Georgia invasion, Geographic showed the corruption of Russian politics, the pent-up desire of Russia to return to the glory days of the Soviet empire, why it has been frustrated at the western flight of its breakaway republics, how dependent the Russian economy is on oil, how exorbitantly wealthy it has become from it, and — to those who could read between the lines — how much damage a drop in oil prices and further state heavy-handedness could do to the Russian stock market.

Geographic provided those details in two separate articles, one in June and another this month. The Financial Times confirmed Geographic’s prescience yesterday when it reported:

Investors pulled their money out of Russia in the wake of the Georgia conflict at the fastest rate since the 1998 rouble crisis, new figures showed on Thursday.

Russian debt and equity markets have also suffered sharp falls since the conflict began on August 8, with yields on domestic rouble bonds increasing by up to 150 basis points in the last month.

Geographic readers who happen to be investors handily avoided the Russian mess without once subjecting themselves to the bromidic one-second viewpoints of the message board investment crowd.

It so happens that National Geographic keeps a website at ngm.com where you can read features such as the current look at soil loss around the world. Even so, I recommend subscribing to the magazine because it’ll make you a wiser person and give your eyes some time away from the computer screen. Here’s the feature photo from the soil loss article:

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