Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, will purchase a majority stake in The Atlantic, the influential magazine which has successfully adapted to the era of online journalism.
As noted in The Atlantic itself, David Bradley, the current owner, who purchased it in 1999 for $10 million, will be selling a majority stake to the Emerson Collective, a nonprofit led by Jobs. Bradley will retain a minority stake in The Atlantic for now, but the Emerson Collective will most likely assume full ownership within five years.
In a letter to the staff, Bradley explained that as he was approaching 70 and none of his three sons appeared interested in owning the magazine, he decided to sell the publication to an outside individual. After conducting an extensive search, he decided that Jobs was the best person to lead The Atlantic.
How much Jobs paid for The Atlantic was not disclosed.
Technology and Media Combine
This purchase does mean that The Atlantic will be bankrolled by Silicon Valley money and is comparable to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s acquisition of The Washington Post in 2013. For now, the magazine and the Emerson Collective appear to be a terrific fit.
The Atlantic was first published in 1857 and boasts the famous writer Ralph Waldo Emerson among its founders. But what is truly remarkable is how the magazine has not just managed to survive in the digital age, but thrive. The Atlantic reported 33 million monthly unique visitors and is a major voice among newspapers and magazines today. Its print circulation has increased and it has successfully adapted to digital advertising and online views, which make up the overwhelming majority of its views and income.
It has been able to accomplish this, not with clickbait or stylized lists, but with long, interesting essay topics, such as what can be done about North Korea (the answer: not much) or how Democrats may need to adjust their position on immigration (stress unity over diversity).
While The Atlantic has successfully adapted to the digital era, Jobs wants to be a bigger part of the media. The Emerson Collective is an organization which proclaims its desire to solve “complex systematic failures” such as improving economic and social mobility. In order to solve those problems, it must work with innovative partners and thinkers like those with The Atlantic. The magazine could also publicize Jobs’s beliefs on how various societal ills can be fixed. The Emerson Collective already owns or has a share of other, smaller media holdings. But this would be its most ambitious media project yet.
A Change or Not?
A change in ownership will spark concerns about whether Jobs and the Emerson Collective may steer The Atlantic in a new direction. But Bradley made clear that the California-based leadership from editor Jeffrey Goldberg on down would remain largely unchanged, aside from the addition of former New York Times editor Peter Lattman to the position of the magazine’s vice chairman. Bradley even wryly noted that the magazine’s staff might be disappointed to learn they would be staying in Washington, D.C., instead of moving to Palo Alto.
This does mean that The Atlantic under Jobs will keep its generally liberal viewpoints, especially given her commitment towards improving economic mobility and fighting for immigrant rights. The confluence between Silicon Valley and more liberal publications has already invited attacks from other media outlets and the Trump government, with Bezos and the Post being favorite targets of Donald Trump’s Twitter account.
Perhaps Trump will turn his wrath towards The Atlantic, and others may worry about growing connections between journalists and wealthy backers. But this magazine has a storied history of distinguished journalism, and Jobs appears to be currently committed towards keeping up that tradition.
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