Nat Geo Builds A Base Camp

As it gears up for next January's U.S. launch, National Geographic Channel is building a multimillion-dollar digital production studio that will also be "base camp" for its planned live, nightly newscast, officials said last week.

National Geographic has formed a network news organization and hired former ABC News executive and Nightline veteran Mark Nelson as vice president and executive producer of news. He will oversee a team of 60 reporters, producers, editors, photojournalists and technicians operating from the new facility in the heart of the National Geographic Society's Washington, D.C., headquarters.

The studio's location gives the network and its daily newscast access to the parade of scientists, explorers, politicians and dignitaries who visit the headquarters campus, said National Geographic Channel president Laureen Ong.

Part of Nelson's duties will be oversight of National Geographic Today, the live newscast that will air at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel, a partnership of National Geographic Television and Fox Cable Networks, when it debuts early next year.

National Geographic Today plans to combine hard news and in-depth features viewed "through the prism of National Geographic."

Such breaking stories as the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk and the loss of its crew, the ongoing fires in the Western U.S. and the Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tire recall would all be fodder for National Geographic Today, Nelson said.

"We would have owned the fire story," he said. "The angle we're taking with National Geographic Today is this is science, this is technology, in our lives today."

Added Ong, "This new show will reflect our genre."

Nelson will report to Andrew Wilk, executive vice president of National Geographic's programming, production and news division.

Floor-to-ceiling glass will encase the new digital facility, all in a bid to invite the public to interact with National Geographic productions.

National Geographic will debut to 10 million subscribers, with commitments for more than 25 million homes so far. To date, the network has carriage deals with AT & T Broadband, DirecTV Inc. and Adelphia Communications Corp.