National Geographic does flips

Have you seen the National Geographic magazine's Civil War battlefield issue? It went to press with a reversed image on the cover. Someone flipped the negative. The U.S. soldier's large beltbuckle, in the center of the photo, proudly diplays the letters ".S.U" with the S reversed, of course.

Inside, the story circles around Civil War Preservation Trust, elevating that body to a kind of "gatekeeper" of the preservation role. Too bad for the regional organizations; too bad for groups that believe in buying land rather than placing conservation easements on it; too bad for battlefields that never make the CWPT "top ten" list; too bad for nonprofits that take the high road of financial transparency.

The magazine includes a color map with tinted circles indicating degree of danger to a battlefield. There is no key to explain how danger was assessed in each case; it also uses thick-lined circles to show "saved" battlefields. I looked at three unlabeled mid-Maryland "saved" circles trying to figure out which battlefields they might correspond to. Could these be Monocacy, South Mountain, and Crampton's Gap? We don't have three saved battlefields corresponding to NG's map, which makes me wonder about the rest of the information.

The short article accompanying the photos was what we used to call "soft news." Short on data, long on impressions.

Memo to the editor of the National Geographic: I was taught magazine feature writing by one of your predecessors 35 years ago. He would have fired the layout team that allowed a flipped negative on the magazine's cover; and he would have fired the writers and editors who churned out a puff piece with multiple sources but just one point of view.

Times have changed and this isn't journalism, it's civic partnership. A little backscratching, a lot of politicking, leaven that with heaping doses of self-congratulation.

It's not just the negative that flipped.