Wired Editor Nicholas Thompson Becomes C.E.O of The Atlantic

From a New York Times story by Marc Tracy headlined “Wired’s Editor Is Named C.E.O. of The Atlantic”:

The Atlantic, the 163-year-old publication that has grown under the stewardship of Laurene Powell Jobs, announced on Thursday that it had selected a new chief executive after a yearlong search: Nicholas Thompson, the editor in chief of Wired, the tech-focused magazine published by Condé Nast.

It is unusual for a journalist to take charge of a media outlet’s business operations, but Ms. Powell Jobs, whose Emerson Collective owns a majority stake in The Atlantic, and David G. Bradley, a minority owner, said in a joint email to the staff that Mr. Thompson was suited to the challenge. . . .

Mr. Thompson, 45, has spent 15 years working as a writer and editor for Condé Nast publications, including The New Yorker, where he was the top digital editor from 2012 to 2017. In an interview, he said he had spoken with Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor in chief, about the publication’s future, including a talk that took place during a socially distanced meeting in Mr. Thompson’s Brooklyn backyard one evening this week. . . .

The Atlantic’s search for a chief executive started last fall, after its former president, Bob Cohn, left the publication. . . .Mr. Thompson, who is scheduled to start as its chief executive in February, and Mr. Goldberg, who has been the top editor since 2016, will both report to the publication’s board of directors.

The incoming chief executive said he had read The Atlantic while growing up near Boston, where the magazine, founded by New England thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, had its headquarters before it moved to Washington in the years when Mr. Bradley was its sole owner.

Mr. Thompson, who became the Wired editor in chief in 2017, noted that he had instituted digital pay walls at The New Yorker and Wired during his tenures at those publications. “If you were to ask me what am I most proud about from my time at The New Yorker,” he said, “it’s helping to set up a pay wall that made The New Yorker’s future more solid.”

In a 2019 article for Wired, Mr. Thompson argued that persuading readers to pay for articles was good for journalism, as well as a publication’s chances at making money. “When your business depends on subscriptions, your economic success depends on publishing stuff your readers love — not just stuff they click,” he wrote. “It’s good to align one’s economic and editorial imperatives!”

Before going into journalism, Mr. Thompson worked as a street musician in New York and released three albums of acoustic guitar instrumentals. He is also the author of the 2009 book “The Hawk and the Dove,” a dual biography of the prominent Cold War figures George Kennan and Paul Nitze (who was Mr. Thompson’s maternal grandfather).

During his time as the digital editor of The New Yorker, Mr. Thompson moonlighted as a media entrepreneur, helping to found The Atavist, a digital magazine and publishing company that was later sold to the web publisher Automattic.

As the top editor of Wired — which got its start in 1993 as a publication known for its embrace of all things tech — he led coverage that was often critical of the industry, including a 2018 cover piece, co-written by Mr. Thompson and Fred Vogelstein, on the turmoil inside Facebook. The cover image was a photo illustration of a bruised and battered Mark Zuckerberg. . . .

The Atlantic started charging readers for online content last fall, about two years after Ms. Powell Jobs’s philanthropic organization, Emerson Collective, took a majority stake in the publication. With that change in strategy, the venerable magazine joined a wave of legacy media companies that have sought to bring in more revenue from digital subscribers than from advertisers. . . .

Since starting its pay wall, The Atlantic has sold 400,000 new subscriptions. It now has more than 700,000 print and digital subscribers, putting it on a pace to achieve its goal of having one million by the end of 2022.

The Atlantic has met the coronavirus pandemic with noteworthy coverage. . . .But the publication’s business has suffered in the pandemic’s economic fallout. The Atlantic laid off 68 employees in the spring, citing “a bracing decline in advertising” and a hit to its live-events business.

Marc Tracy covers print and digital media. He previously covered college sports.

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