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Opinion The Atlantic hires the Houston Chronicle’s Vernon Loeb as politics editor

Atlantic Media Chairman David Bradley in his office last year in Washington. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Vernon Loeb is a newspaper guy whose career has proceeded in loops. He worked for 17 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer, only to leave for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Then he returned to the Inquirer, followed by a second tour at The Post, from which he departed four years ago to serve as managing editor for the Houston Chronicle.

Two constants have followed him along the path: memorable stories and vanishing resources. “I have … spent decades at this point working for shrinking newspapers and to suddenly go work for a news organization that’s aggressively and ambitiously expanding was almost mind-bending for me,” says Loeb.

That news organization is the Atlantic, which has announced that the 62-year-old Loeb will take over in July as politics editor. A memo to staff from the Atlantic’s editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg and editor Adrienne LaFrance read, “Vernon is a true writer’s editor who prizes the power of relentless reporting and beautiful writing in equal measure.”

The addition of Loeb follows the announcement in February that the Atlantic was shopping for new talent — 100 people, with about half being added to its newsroom. The incoming personnel marked a pleasant counter to trends in the magazine sector. Whether in frequency, staff levels or some other measure, many titles including Vanity Fair, Glamour, Teen Vogue and Bon Appétit have retrenched of late.

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The unit under Loeb’s direction will claim a nice chunk of the Atlantic’s fresh injection of reporters and editors. According to an Atlantic spokeswoman, the politics team will roughly double in size; according to a company release, it includes reporters such as Russell Berman, Natasha Bertrand, McKay Coppins, David A. Graham, Emma Green, Rosie Gray, Vann R. Newkirk II and Elaina Plott. The Atlantic currently has an editorial staffing level of around 115, which includes, magazine staff, a video group (Atlantic Studios) and a podcast arm.

For the sake of comparison, that’s not in the same numerical realm as the New York Times (1,450 newsroom staffers, including opinionators), The Post (about 800 newsroom staffers) or CNN (almost 4,000 “news professionals”). Meaning that Loeb & Co. will have to pick their spots. “Yeah, we want to beat everybody all the time,” says Goldberg, while acknowledging that the Atlantic isn’t going to match the firepower of the Times and The Post. “The good thing is I don’t have to cover everything,” he says.

Under Loeb’s management, the Houston Chronicle was a Pulitzer finalist for its coverage of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. There was no other story in town. “Nobody covers hurricanes at this paper full-time, and now everyone is covering hurricanes at this paper full-time,” said Loeb at the time.

“I don’t think I’m going to be covering hurricanes,” says Loeb now. “And I doubt I’ll put the entire magazine on one story, like I did in Houston. I want to report aggressively and internationally, and we have the money to do that, and we have the ambition to do that.” The Atlantic called Loeb to feel him out about the position. He said, “Look, I love my job. I’ve spent four years creating a really great paper down here, but you’re the Atlantic. I’ll hear you out.” One of the things he heard from Goldberg was that Abraham Lincoln was an Atlantic subscriber. “I said, ‘That’s a great recruiting line,'” remembers Loeb, who starts in the new position July 2.

Yoni Appelbaum, the outgoing politics editor, will lead a section on ideas.

The magazine turned a profit in 2010 for the first time in a long time, thanks to aggressive digital maneuvers. Over a couple of decades, Atlantic Media Chairman David Bradley had poured about $100 million into the enterprise, financing think piece after think piece. Now 65, Bradley has sold a majority stake in Atlantic Media to Emerson Collective, the good-deed outfit headed by Laurene Powell Jobs.

Just as tech money has financed expansion at Jeffrey P. Bezos’s Post, so it is with Powell Jobs’s Atlantic. “Laurene becoming partners with David Bradley means that we can grow even faster,” says Goldberg.

Newspapers have always sought to do the work of magazines, with long-form front-page stories geared toward Pulitzer consideration and, for some properties, glossies of their own. The Internet long ago removed the most formidable barrier — weekly and monthly publication frequencies — for magazines to horn in on newspaper turf. An opinions editor of a major daily, says Goldberg, marveled to him about having to compete against the Atlantic for op-ed material. “I said welcome to the Internet,” says Goldberg. “We’re all in each other’s spaces.”

When Plott reported on June 6 that a top aide to Scott Pruitt had resigned, an agency spokesman told her, “You have a great day, you’re a piece of trash.” That was two servings of news in a package of 500 words or so — one being Pruitt’s personnel troubles, the other being casual press-shop misanthropy. For an aging mediaphile like the Erik Wemple Blog, who grew up reading windy and timeless Atlantic Monthly fare — like the reappraisal of Thomas Jefferson, the explainer on an airplane’s banked turn — the up-tempo stuff still shocks the info-digestive tract. Normalizing that output is Loeb’s charge.

“The perfect digital story for us in the news context is original reporting that moves the story forward, superior writing and deep analysis and also, to a certain degree, a magazinish point of view,” says Goldberg. “And I need it in an hour.”