The Atlantic is growing. So why is billionaire owner Laurene Jobs gutting it?

Laurene Powell Jobs. Photo (cc) 2018 by TED Conference.

There are good billionaire media owners and bad. Laurene Powell Jobs has now crossed the line from good to bad.

The Atlantic on Thursday laid off 68 employees, amounting to 17% of its staff, because advertising and its lucrative events business have cratered. Twenty-two of those employees worked in editorial. At the same time, though, the magazine has added 90,000 paid subscribers (including me) since the beginning of March on the strength of its excellent COVID-19 coverage. To cut now strikes me as the equivalent of consumer fraud.

The big question is why Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, would buy a venerable media property if not to provide it with some runway during a crisis. I get that even billionaires want to build sustainable businesses. But that’s not what this is about. This is a short-term move and an insult to all those new subscribers that Jobs presumably wants to retain — not to mention the staff members who worked so hard to attract those new readers.

Another billionaire owner, the celebrity surgeon Patrick Soon-Shiong, recently started slashing and burning at the Los Angeles Times at the first sign of COVID-related trouble, tearing down what he had only recently built up. Again, it makes no sense. If they believed in their strategy before the pandemic, then owners should keep doing what they were doing, provided they can afford it. Jobs and Soon-Shiong can afford it.

Other billionaire owners have taken a different approach. Jeff Bezos has stayed the course at The Washington Post. John Henry has made some cuts here and there at The Boston Globe, but there have been no reports of full-time newsroom staffers being let go, even though ad revenues are down 35%. Then again, Henry wants to hold on to the Globe’s new digital subscribers. Glen Taylor, the billionaire who owns the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, has kept his newsroom intact as well.

There’s an old story that during World War II, when newsprint was rationed, the New York Herald Tribune decided to cut its news coverage so that it could keep its advertising. The New York Times did the opposite — it doubled down on journalism and cut advertising instead. After the war, the Times built a lead that it never relinquished, while the Herald Tribune entered a long decline and went out of business in 1966.

It’s a lesson that Jobs, Soon-Shiong and other billionaire owners ought to ponder. The pandemic will end at some point. If they’re unwilling to sustain their media properties through these bad times, you have to wonder why they bought them.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Andrew Sullivan’s move is a big loss for the Atlantic

Andrew Sullivan

Interesting that Andrew Sullivan is taking his pioneering blog from the Atlantic to the Daily Beast/ Newsweek even though the Atlantic is one of the few media organizations that seems to have money to spend.

Michael Calderone’s interview with Sullivan makes it appear that Sullivan simply couldn’t say no to Tina Brown. In fact, there’s not even any mention of the Atlantic’s making a move to keep Sullivan. So perhaps Sullivan didn’t give the Atlantic a chance.

This is not good news for the Atlantic. According to M. Amedeo Tumolillo of the New York Times, Sullivan’s “Daily Dish” accounted for as much as a quarter of the Atlantic’s 4.8 million unique monthly visitors as recently as October.

I can’t say I’m much of a Sullivan fan. His blogorrhea makes it impossible to keep up with him. At times, he can be as irresponsible as anyone in blogland. Nevertheless, Sullivan is something of an online phenomenon. This is a big loss for the Atlantic, and a win for Tina Brown.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

David Beard leaves Globe for National Journal

Dave Beard

Over the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to watching talented people leave the Boston Globe. But this one hurts more than most: David Beard, the editor of Boston.com, has accepted a top editing job with the Washington-based National Journal Group.

According to this announcement, posted at Romenesko, Beard will be deputy editor-in-chief and online editor of the group, which is adding a number of free online services to its subscription site in order to compete with Politico. Though there’s no mention of it in the announcement, the Journal is a sister publication of the Atlantic, which owner David Bradley yanked out of Boston, its ancestral home, in 2005.

Beard has done a great job of positioning Boston.com as something different from the Globe. Perhaps even more important, he has been a huge presence for the Globe outside 135 Morrissey Blvd., evangelizing not just on behalf of the Globe, but for new forms of journalism in general. Plus, he’s a great guy.

The Globe’s ability to replace key people and reinvent itself is impressive, but Dave is going to be a hard act to follow. Subscribe to his Twitter feed here.

What follows is a memo that Globe editor Marty Baron and deputy managing editor for multimedia Bennie DiNardo sent to the staff a little while ago, a copy of which was obtained by Media Nation:

To all:

David Beard has been many things for us since arriving at the Globe in 1998 — online evangelist, deputy foreign editor, tweeter-in-chief, Facebook promoter, soccer fan, zones chief, recruiter, community liaison, reader advocate, teacher, valued adviser, friend. Sadly for us, he is about to add another title to his portfolio — former colleague.

David is taking his unlimited energy and his enthusiasm for news to Washington, where he will become deputy editor-in-chief and online editor for the National Journal Group, which includes National Journal, CongressDaily, The Hotline, NationalJournal.com, and The Almanac of American Politics.

In a building full of amazing Rolodexes, no one has a more extensive list of contacts than Dave. He’s a human version of LinkedIn. Whether you are writing about Belmont or Bogota, David inevitably knows someone and connects you. Before coming to Boston to be our deputy foreign editor, Dave reported from South America, the Caribbean, the US South, and the Cleveland area for the Plain Dealer, Associated Press, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He also served as Caribbean editor for the AP for three years, overseeing coverage of the US intervention to restore an elected president in Haiti. After his three-year stint on the Globe’s foreign desk, he immersed himself in local coverage, overseeing the regional editions.

Four years ago, he again staked out new territory, becoming editor of Boston.com. Since then, the website has grown from 150 million page views a month to almost 200 million, and our mobile traffic has gone from nonexistent to almost 13 million page views. In his recent digital years, he supervised online coverage of Barack Obama’s presidential election victory and the death of Senator Kennedy, cultivated a growing network of community bloggers, and helped launch “Secret Spaces,” an online project that turned into a book.

With Dave leaving us in two weeks, a search for the next editor of Boston.com begins immediately, but first things first: Please offer your thanks to Dave for the invaluable creativity and collegiality he brought to this organization for the past 12 years, and wish him well as he pursues a promising opportunity in Washington.

Marty and Bennie

Andrew Sullivan goes there

It was only a matter of time before a wild rumor about the Palin family broke into the mainstream. Now the line has been crossed by Andrew Sullivan, who blogs about it at the Atlantic.com. The rumor: Sarah Palin is not the mother of young Trig Palin. The mother is actually her 16-year-old daughter, Bristol.

I strongly believe Sullivan should have laid off this. I could have linked to it yesterday, but didn’t, since at that point it was only fodder for a pseudonymous diarist at the Daily Kos. This is the sort of hurtful story that reputable news organizations should check out thoroughly before injecting into the debate. I mean, come on. Does anyone think Josh Marshall hasn’t been following this? Or dozens of other liberal political blogs and Web sites, including Media Nation? None of us went there, and Sullivan shouldn’t have, either.

Interestingly, the Huffington Post beat Sullivan with a double-reverse flip, raising it only to tut-tut about ethical standards at the Kos.

But now, thanks to Sullivan’s reputation as one of the early blogfathers and the prestige of the Atlantic, this story is, for all intents and purposes, Out There. Which news organization will be the first to debunk it? Or, uh, not?

Instant update: Sullivan is already defending himself:

The job of a press is to ask questions which have a basis in fact. Read for yourself the full chronology here. See whether you are certain there are no legitimate questions worth asking. I have claimed nothing.

Sorry, but it doesn’t wash. The job of the press is to ask questions and then to present its findings to the public — or, in this case, if it found nothing, to do its best to make sure the story never saw the light of day.

If Sullivan was that worked up about about the Palin rumor, he should have e-mailed some reporters he knows and asked if they were on the case. This is the definition of a story that shouldn’t be hashed out publicly.

Tell us something we don’t know

I just spent, oh, the last hour and a half reading Roger Simon’s dauntingly well-reported piece for the Politico on how Barack Obama managed to beat the Clinton juggernaut. (Chuck Todd was praising it on Tom Ashbrook’s show this morning. Do we really believe he had time to read it?)

Like Joshua Green’s Atlantic article on what went wrong with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it is full of insight and nuance. And, like Green’s piece, I ultimately found it unsatisfying. Here’s the problem: No one other than a political junkie is going to read such a story. And we political junkies have been living all this in real time for many, many months.

Both Simon and Green remind us of details we might have forgotten, skillfully weave a mass of information into coherent narratives and come up with some previously unreported nuggets. (Green: Mark Penn is smarter and more awful than we thought. Simon: Obama’s brain-trusters actually believed they could knock Clinton out in the opening weeks of the primary season.) In the end, though, they don’t do much more than tell us what we already know.

If there’s one thing of value I learned from the two accounts, it’s that no one should believe the Democrats would be in better shape today if Clinton had won the nomination — especially if she had won it easily, and had not had to put her dysfunctional campaign staff to the test.

OK, two. I think it’s a pretty good bet that Simon and Green are going to write books about this historic campaign. At nearly 16,000 words, Simon’s article is already about a quarter of the way there.