Historian reveals deliberate pattern of bigoted reports in National Geographic

World | 13 Mar 2018 7:15 pm

An investigation of the National Geographic magazine last fall by University of Virginia photography historian John Edwin Mason found an intentional pattern.

"People of color were often scantily clothed, people of color were usually not seen in cities, people of color were not often surrounded by technologies of automobiles, airplanes or trains or factories,” Mason said. "People of color were often pictured as living as if their ancestors might have lived several hundreds of years ago and that’s in contrast to westerners who are always fully clothed and often carrying technology.”

White teenage boys "could count on every issue or two of National Geographic having some brown skin bare breasts for them to look at, and I think editors at National Geographic knew that was one of the appeals of their magazine, because women, especially Asian women from the pacific islands, were photographed in ways that were almost glamour shots.”

National Geographic, which now reaches 30 million people around the world, was the way that many Americans first learned about the rest of the world, said professor Samir Husni, who heads the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s journalism school.

Making sure that kind of coverage never happens again should be paramount, Husni said. "Trying to integrate the magazine media with more hiring of diverse writers and minorities in the magazine field is how we apologize for the past,” Husni said.

Editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg said she is doing just that, adding that in the past, the magazine has done a better job at gender diversity than racial and ethnic diversity.

"The coverage wasn’t right before because it was told from an elite, white American point of view, and I think it speaks to exactly why we needed a diversity of storytellers,” Goldberg said. "So we need photographers who are African-American and Native American because they are going to capture a different truth and maybe a more accurate story.”

National Geographic was one of the first advocates of using color photography in its pages, and is well known for its coverage of history, science, environmentalism and the far corners of the world. It currently can be found in 172 countries and in 43 languages every month.-AP.

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