October 13, 2021

National Geographic: 113 Years Young and Still Growing

How does a legacy publication build new audiences and still create excitement and buzz? The answer: storytelling. A group of students in the MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program recently paid a virtual visit to National Geographic (founded in 1888) and learned all about the brand’s incomparable ability to engage audiences through breathtaking and inventive visual storytelling.

Most of National Geographic‘s print articles are 82% visual and 18% text. But as social media rapidly changes the digital environment, National Geographic strives to enhance the storytelling experience to meet readers where they are. To learn more about this, we heard from three key members of the National Geographic team who walked mesmerized students through an interactive solar system, into the crowds at the White House Insurrection, and up close and personal with a sabertooth by using compelling graphics, CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), AR (Artificial Reality) and video editing methods. "Embracing the latest technology is integral to everything the  brand does, and these tools are frequently used on the website and mobile platforms to  engage audiences in new ways."

“Anywhere readers are, we’re interested in tailoring that experience for them and meeting them there,” said Emmet Smith (top photo, right), Senior Vice President and Creative Director for National Geographic. He discussed how his team is continuously thinking of ways to develop stories to suit different audiences based on how they interact with different platforms. For example, they now edit videos more quickly for Instagram than for TikTok, and create a scrolling experience on phones that moves while readers scroll. In this way, they continuously draw in audiences.

Smith also discussed the level of research that needs to happen to bring every visual storytelling project to fruition. For their October 2020 Dinosaur issue, every detail of the dinosaur eggs and each feather on each creature was researched by historians and scientists to create the most accurate portrayal of what dinosaurs looked like. All this was captured in a stunning CGI model.

“You’re being fed information in such a beautiful way,” said Sadie Quarrier (top photo, middle), Deputy Director of Photography. She attested to the brilliant National Geographic team’s ability to find the key points in major stories,and express them visually through highly-impactful, beautiful pictures. Quarrier looks through every single  photo (sometimes hundreds per shoot) to pick out the few that best convey the story.

National Geographic has been uniquely able to maintain a lead on social media platforms with their creative and ever-adapting use of visuals to elicit feelings and capture stories. The magazine currently is the 12th most popular page on Instagram, boasting 2.1M likes on TikTok, and recently reached a whole new audience by joining Disney+.

As the brand  expands in new directions and pushes new boundaries, Managing Editor David Brindley (top photo, left) is there to help make sure that National Geographic maintains its integrity and  reputation for accuracy. He oversees a team of researchers and fact checkers, among other duties. “What I’m always looking for and striving for is authenticity in storytelling. For me, the platform doesn’t matter.” Brindley explained, “We are working in different ways and pushing all the buttons and pulling all the levers to really meet people who are interested in our content wherever they are. But ultimately it’s the storytelling.”

By Alexis Allen

Alexis is a caffeine-fueled comma enthusiast with a passion for bringing communities together through storytelling. Before entering the MS in Publishing: Digital and Print Media program this fall, she worked in film festivals and specialty coffee. She is pursuing a graduate degree publishing in the hopes of parlaying  her love of stories into an editorial position in book publishing.

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