The upshot? Goldberg just got one of the very best jobs in journalism. He oversees about 120 employees at the magazine, TheAtlantic.com and the rather luxuriously titled Atlantic Studios, or what is known in most other organizations as “the video team.” The memo from Bradley carried four arduous subtitles, making all of us media reporters thankful that he doesn’t edit the editorial output. Under “Thinking Through this Appointment,” Bradley wrote, “As with James Bennet and Michael Kelly before him, Jeff was first a great journalist. He is, in himself, the property we prize. Our confidence in Jeff is that, understanding talent, Jeff will lead a great-talent enterprise. And that, of course, is The Atlantic’s salient comparative advantage in the scrum of modern media – that The Atlantic was created to be the great talent destination.”
Also good is that Goldberg doesn’t reach for such gibberish in talking about the job ahead, though he does view it as a peach of a post. “I have the luxury of helping but don’t have the worry of thinking that the magazine won’t come out without me,” says Goldberg in an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog.
James Bennet, Goldberg’s predecessor who’s now the top editor at the New York Times editorial operation, said of the job, “There’s an amazing group of writers and editors, but you need somebody who’s the ultimate standard keeper and direction setter for the operation. And sure, it can and could run for a while on the incredible strength [of the staff] and clarity people have about what the mission for the place is, but over the long haul, you need somebody in that role.”
For example, news. Back in 2014, the organization killed its special breaking-news arm, “The Wire” — which was a fast and reliable mill of quickie news stories. “What we did was bring the news ambition of the Atlantic Wire back into the Atlantic,” says Bennet. “The Atlantic has been on top of all the big breaking stories in same way that The Wire used to be, with the same speed and precision.”
Even so, the Atlantic is still thinking through its cadence and metabolism vis-a-vis fresh news. Asked about the Wire, its dismantling and the implications for breaking-news coverage at the Atlantic, Goldberg says something that too few people in Washington say these days, “Yeah, I don’t know.” He did expand, however, on the challenge before him: “This is the question that I have to explore over the coming months — how on top of the news are we in terms of straight delivery?… I know that readers all over the place find us an urgent read, so that’s a great start.” It’s also a credit to The Atlantic’s assault on the Internet. “Nine years ago, when I got here, the web staff was three people and two of them were Andrew Sullivan,” says Goldberg.
There are indeed important trade-offs for a thought-leading publication. That is, you don’t want a fellow like Ta-Nehisi Coates scrambling to aggregate every breaking news story in his topical orbit. Via original reporting and careful thinking, Coates has scrambled the public consciousness on American racial issues, most notably with his classic, “The Case for Reparations,” a piece that did exactly what its title promised, only more persuasively than many previous efforts. “Ta-Nehisi changed the way millions think about one of the most surpassingly important issues in America — and one of the most surpassingly important issues for The Atlantic, which was founded by abolitionists to bring about an end to slavery.” The publication was founded in 1857.
The Erik Wemple Blog grew up reading the Atlantic and remembers frequent stories seeking to establish fresh takes on towering figures in American history. Such as this one knocking Thomas Jefferson off his pedestal. “It’s the competitive advantage of The Atlantic. We know those guys,” says Goldberg, who passed along a link to the 1867 article by Frederick Douglass under the title, “An Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage.” “We only have to look to ourselves to see what’s important.”
Updated to add sentence with the quote about Andrew Sullivan, which the Erik Wemple Blog inexplicably left out of our initial draft.