The Atlantic is feted in the New York Times for having mounted a cultural transformation. The owe it all to vilifying their old self. This seems like a clever design strategy, especially when people can’t imagine a rival for their territory.
Getting there took a cultural transfusion, a dose of counterintuition and a lot of digital advertising revenue.
“We imagined ourselves as a venture-capital-backed start-up in Silicon Valley whose mission was to attack and disrupt The Atlantic,” said Justin B. Smith, president of the Atlantic Media Company, who arrived at the magazine’s offices in the Watergate complex in 2007 with a mission to stanch the red ink. “In essence, we brainstormed the question, ‘What would we do if the goal was to aggressively cannibalize ourselves?’ ”
What that meant more than anything else was forcing one of the nation’s oldest magazines to stop thinking of itself as a printed product.
Separations between the digital and print staffs in both business and editorial operations came down. The Web site’s paywall was dismantled. A cadre of young writers began filling the newsroom’s cubicles. Advertising salespeople were told it did not matter what percentage of their sales were digital and what percentage print; they just needed to hit one sales target. A robust business around Atlantic-branded conferences took off.