The Atlantic magazine covers

The Atlantic is making drastic cuts to its staff due to the ongoing fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 162-year-old magazine is reducing its headcount by 68 people, or 17 percent of its staff, saying in a memo that it’s part of a “reset of our business strategy in response to the current economic climate.”

“While these decisions are profoundly difficult, they have been made to ensure the long-term financial stability of The Atlantic,” the publication said.

Although the publication went on something of a publicity spree more recently to highlight a surge in subscriptions, adding 90,000 subscribers since March, around when the pandemic took hold in the U.S., it’s still in need of cost-cutting. Many other media outlets have been in the same position: record traffic and subscriptions but effectively no advertising and no events to bring in needed additional revenue.

David Bradley, chairman and owner of Atlantic Media, which also has a majority investor in Laurene Powell Jobs, called the magazine’s coverage of the pandemic “unparalleled.” But it didn’t save jobs.

“These crucial gains have not forestalled abrupt and dramatic losses in our advertising and live events businesses,” Bradley said. “As stewards of this 163-year-old American institution, our responsibility is to guarantee The Atlantic’s long-term financial viability.”

The publication described the end of its events business due to the coronavirus as “overnight and near-complete” and said it’s experiencing “a bracing decline in advertising.” The decline in advertising revenue for most publications, online and off, is expected by experts and researchers to be worse than the last recession

Going forward, The Atlantic will focus mainly on getting even more subscribers and on its brand studio, or partnerships, business to drive revenue. Given the shift away from events, the layoffs most affected people working in The Atlantic’s live events business, with the magazine noting “uncertainty about when in-person events will return.” 

The Atlantic just introduced a stricter online paywall last September and then launched a redesign of its site and magazine at the end of last year. 

But the cuts also hit the sales and marketing team and what Bradley characterized as a “small number” of newsroom positions, along with the elimination of the video production department. A temporary salary freeze is also in effect and there are reductions in executive pay, although the publication did not specify the amount. The magazine had already implemented a hiring freeze and halted its fellowship program.

Jon Schleuss, president of the union NewsGuild, which represents thousands of news employees in the U.S., said The Atlantic’s decision further underscores “the dire need for federal aid to newsrooms.” NewsGuild has launched a “Save the News” campaign to promote this push for aid from the U.S. Congress as the pandemic, and the related loss of advertising revenue, has already caused widespread cuts across media.

“Communities depend on journalists — more than ever — for critical information, and yet tens of thousands of journalists have been laid off, furloughed or seen their pay cut,” Schleuss said. “Congress needs to act now to save the news.”

As for the employees being laid off, they are getting a base of 16 weeks salary as severance, plus two weeks additional pay for every year of work beyond the first. This is at least six weeks additional pay to the magazine’s usual severance offer, with the additional weeks described as “some measure of support during this singularly difficult year.” Health care will also be covered through the end of the year.

“Like The New York Times and The Washington Post, The Atlantic’s long-term intention is that a majority of revenues comes from its readership,” Bradley wrote. “But, in the absence of a pandemic and global crisis, we would have found some kind of kinder contraction. Surely, we would have paused over furloughs instead of severance if we believed the positions were coming back.”

“I know that the pandemic is indiscriminate in its course, cutting through various industries and geographies,” Bradley added. “But, as has been the case for decades, our media economy is especially hard hit. This has been a stubborn fact the whole of my time in the sector.”

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