The Atlantic Hires Wired’s Nick Thompson as CEO

The Atlantic is having a hectic, but momentous year. While the media company, known for its eponymous 163-year-old print magazine, saw cuts in its newsroom and events division this year, it also secured in impressive consumer revenue growth—in no small part due to its industry-leading coverage of politics and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Building on its success, The Atlantic announced a big new hire Thursday: Nick Thompson, the editor in chief of Conde Nast’s Wired, is joining the company as CEO.

“Nick is one of the great innovators in journalism, and I have enormous confidence that he will guide this company to a new era of subscription and reader growth, technological creativity, and business success,” Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor in chief, said in a statement.

In a tweet announcing the news, Thompson said he’s “read and been inspired by The Atlantic” his whole life, but especially during its “brilliant run” of late.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity to work to build, and expand, the business of one of the most important publications in America.” 

The Atlantic has been on a stellar run recently, led by Goldberg, a sort of player-coach who sometimes steps in the batter’s box to break mammoth stories, including September’s bombshell that revealed President Donald Trump referred to fallen American soldiers as “losers” and “suckers.” Goldberg has also overseen top-shelf reporting of the Covid-19 pandemic, from writers Ed Yong, James Hamblin, Alexis Madrigal, Olga Khazan and Sarah Zhang. Monetizing its editorial achievements, the publication grew its subscriber base to 700,000, part of the reason Adweek named Goldberg its Editor of the Year.

In the announcement, The Atlantic boasted Thompson’s success at Wired and The New Yorker, another Conde Nast publication. “During his tenure, readership at NewYorker.com rose almost sevenfold,” the company said. “At Wired, digital subscriptions have risen by roughly 300 percent under his leadership.”

Thompson will be tasked with driving The Atlantic’s subscription growth toward its stated goal of 1 million subscribers by the end of 2022. (To put that in perspective, The New York Times has 7 million subscribers.) And advertising isn’t lost and gone forever: The company said it’s on track to “equal last year’s advertising revenue despite the challenges of the pandemic.”

The Atlantic is a few years into the ownership of Laurene Powell Jobs’ nonprofit Emerson Collective, though David Bradley, the onetime sole owner of The Atlantic, has played an active role in the day-to-day management of the company. In a press release Thursday, the company said Bradley would “step back” from his daily role and become chairman emeritus while retaining his minority stake.

Not everything has been smooth sailing for the company though. The Atlantic laid off 68 employees due to the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. The events division, AtlanticLive, was hit hardest, but it also dismantled the video team, the national security desk and the Talent Lab, the hub for recruiting and developing editorial personnel. Thompson will be faced with tough decisions about building back and evolving those business units, as well as expanding the publication’s journalistic efforts. 

(Disclosure: This author previously worked as an assistant producer for AtlanticLive.)

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