Yesterday, we reported that National Geographic had bought ScienceBlogs. We’ve now obtained a recording of a conference call between various members of National Geographic senior management, ScienceBlogs management, and ScienceBloggers — aka Sciblings — that adds some details.
What we’ve learned is that Nat Geo plans to assume control of operations, editorial content, and ad sales by June 1 of this year. And while a post from PZ Myers post said “basically, we’ve been bought,” and we had further confirmation last night of the contents of yesterday’s post from someone familiar with the situation, we want to make sure to point out, high up, that one of the first things that SEED CFO and vice president of finance and operation’s Vera Scavcic said on the call was that SEED would maintain ownership:
From this point forward, it will be National Geographic leading the charge and managing the website on a day-to-day basis, while ownership of the property remains with SEED media group.
So there may be some daylight between what we reported yesterday — that this was an acquisition — and the official version of events. The description on the call of how things would proceed certainly sounds like National Geographic is assuming 100% control of ScienceBlogs. But we’d be happy to clarify the situation further and await comment from both parties.
As Martin Robbins pointed out on Twitter yesterday, Nat Geo has partnered with ScienceBlogs since late 2009, trading content and selling ads for the site. At the time, Nat Geo took a minority stake in ScienceBlogs. (In fact, Robbins predicted, shortly before we posted, that Nat Geo was the buyer described by Myers.) John Caldwell, president of National Geographic Digital Media, reminded those on the call about that partnership, and talked about next steps:
In this new agreement, it is a pleasure to welcome all of you to National Geographic’s extended editorial family and to say how thrilled I am to say we’re going to be able to continue the work that SEED Media started, and focus our resources on improvements that will grow the audience and the quality of this amazing blog network.
SEED’s Savcic, from the call:
At its most basic level, this partnership is about operations, editorial content and ad sales. In each area, your contact in all respects will be our assigned team at National Geographic. National Geographic will manage the day-to-day operations and will report the results to SEED. Your monthly payments will continue to come from Scienceblogs and will be paid timely. Over the coming week, National Geographic will take over the technical aspects of the site and will work directly with you to overcome current issues that you’re facing.
David Braun, vice president of news and editorial service at National Geographic Digital Media, said on the call that the company’s magazine, website, TV channel, and other properties reach a combined 400 million people around the world. The daily news service, he said, has 6.6 million unique visitors per month. (At another point on the call, Scavcic said the Nat Geo site overall has 15 million uniques per month.)
Its mission, he said, is:
to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge and to inspire people to take better care of the planet.
Braun also discussed National Geographic’s many scientist grantees. While he noted that 600 of the 8,000 stories the daily news service has published in 10 years have been about those grantees, he reassured Sciblings that the site was not about publicizing such work.
I’m looking forward to working with ScienceBloggers – Sciblings, I believe you call yourselves – to complement what National Geographic and ScienceBlogs do. I know that you’re respected in your blogging fields.
One of the issues that is likely to be contentious — and certainly was for Myers, who is no stranger to invective — was that of standards and practices. Braun:
It is important to debate freely and robustly. National Geographic has a gold standard reputation for quality. National Geographic values and standards apply to all of our content, wherever and however it is received. With our respect for freedom of expression, we are also sensitive to the way we communicate. We are sensitive to our worldwide audience’s expectations of our brand. So we avoid unjustifiable offense and are sensitive to generally accepted standards.
The subject later came up in a question from Scibling Ed Brayton, who noted that he posts an item called “Dumbass Quote of the Day” and does not shy away from sharp words on politics. Braun responded that material has to run through their standards and practices:
I don’t want to sit here and comment on a case-by-case basis but I do want to work with you to work this out. We do stand for freedom of expression. We want to aim for a higher level of debate that is respectful and doesn’t offend in an unjustifiable way.
We suspect this will be an issue as Scienceblogs is integrated into Nat Geo.
Ross Goldberg, Nat Geo Digital Media’s vice president for strategic development, said on the call that National Geographic plans to have operational control of technology, reporting and communications of Scienceblogs by June 1. Longer-term, Scienceblogs will be co-branded with National Geographic’s logo
to offer greater advertising opportunities and integration with our main site. The hope is to increase exposure to your work.
Nat Geo is also planning to shift Scienceblogs off of Movable Type to WordPress, which is happening at Nat Geo’s main site now. They’d also look into redesigning the site.
We will work with SEED media to ensure they are part of these longer-term initiatives.
In the Q & A, in addition to the question about standards and practices, a Scibling asked whether there would be any changes to copyright and ownership in blog material. The Scienceblogs contract apparently leaves both with bloggers. Braun said that Nat Geo would probably have to rework that contract:
We’re not sure that we have this figured out right now.
Then there was a response to a question which probably explains the silence from Nat Geo and SEED on this deal so far. Here’s Ellen Stanley, of Nat Geo’s communications department, responding to a question from one Scibling about how much of the call he could blog:
We are asking everyone not to blog about this immediately because we have one chance to make hay of this announcement with outside media. And we want ot use that to our collective advantage with trade media as well as consumer media. We’re not quite ready. We will soon be able to encourage everyone to blog about it, but not yet.
The optimal moment is when National Geographic’s brand appears on the website. We will communicate when that’s about to happen. That will get the attention of the media.
But with all due respect: Trying to keep a secret among a group of bloggers and their dedicated following is, well, impossible. Which we were happy to demonstrate.
Update, 3:20 p.m. Eastern, 4/26/11: National Geographic has just posted this on their press site:
National Geographic has assumed management of day-to-day operations for Scienceblogs.com, expanding a relationship with Seed Media Group that started when National Geographic took on ad sales responsibility for Scienceblogs.com in 2009.