The Atlantic laid off 17% of its staffers today from across the company, including editorial, sales, marketing and live events.
The publisher, which has seen a recent notable uptick in subscribers during the Covid-19 pandemic, couldn’t rely on that as a revenue source to make up for financial losses from its in-person events business and loss of advertisers.
Since March, The Atlantic attracted over 90,000 new subscribers. Amid the pandemic, that figure was seen as a hopeful sign that readers would be willing to help make up for lost revenue in other parts of its business, especially for a media organization that had only launched its paywall in September. In all, they attracted 160,000 new subscribers since the paywall’s creation.
“But these crucial gains have not forestalled abrupt and dramatic losses in our advertising and live events businesses,” David Bradley, chairman and owner of Atlantic Media, told staffers in an email Thursday morning.
The Atlantic put a newsroom-wide effort into covering the pandemic, including creating a tool, called the Covid-19 Tracking Project, which a series of data-led analyses of the coronavirus. The coverage of the topic led the publisher, like many other media organizations to see an uptick in traffic to its site.
The publication also began putting on virtual events, like many other publishers, in March as Covid-19 began to take hold in the U.S. But the financial effects were too deep to avoid making cuts, similar to what we saw last week alone with layoffs in newsrooms like Quartz, Vice, The Economic Group and Condé Nast.
The Atlantic will offer a minimum 16 weeks salary to all employees, plus two weeks for each year of service beyond the first year as part of its adjusted severance package, which is more than what’s been previously offered under the standing policy to offer more “support during this singularly-difficult year,” Bradley said in the memo. The Atlantic will also cover healthcare through the end of the year and provide job search support for three months.
To prevent further reductions, The Atlantic is also implementing a temporary salary freeze and pay cuts among executives. Already, the publisher attempted to save costs with a hiring freeze, a pause in fellowship and deferred annual bonuses.
The media outlet will focus on subscriber growth and focus its b-to-b lines of revenue to increase the influence of products and services from its Atlantic 57, Atlantic Re:think and AtlanticLIVE brands. The publisher still hopes to reach 1 million subscribers by December 2022.
“For 163 years, The Atlantic has been in the pursuit of truth,” Bradley said in the memo. “Through a sine curve of ups and downs, we’ve grown four-fold in staffing, 20-fold in readership, so far this century. This story marches on.”
Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective bought a majority stake in The Atlantic in 2017. The next year, the publisher committed to hiring for 100 new positions—50 in editorial, 50 in business—across the company. The initial plan, which has since been put on hold, was for Bradley to stay for five years and then retire and cede control to Laurene Powell Jobs.
Bradley recently sold other parts of the Atlantic Media business: Quartz was sold to Japanese firm Uzabase in 2018; Government Executive Media Group, which published titles such as Route Fifty and Defense One, was sold to a private equity firm based in Chicago this past March, Growth Catalyst Partners; and CityLab, which billed itself as the “urban-focused” site of The Atlantic, and Atlantic Media were sold to Bloomberg.
Atlantic Media still owns National Journal, which has put a recent emphasis on b-to-b consulting, and is a minority owner in The Atlantic.