The Atlantic appeared to have the right ingredients for a successful 21st-century publication: strong journalism, a thriving digital operation and the enthusiastic backing of a multibillionaire, Laurene Powell Jobs.
But on Thursday the 163-year-old publication announced that it would lay off 68 employees, or 17 percent of its staff, evidence that even the most robust media businesses are vulnerable to the crisis that has ravaged news organizations nationwide.
The announcement followed a burst of layoffs in the news media business last week: 155 jobs lost at Vice, 100 at Condé Nast, 90 at The Economist, 80 at Quartz. The cuts at those companies and publications came in the wake of a free fall set off by the coronavirus pandemic, which has cut deeply into advertising revenue.
The layoffs at The Atlantic affected 22 staff members in the editorial department, 11 of whom worked in its now-shuttered video arm. The rest of the people laid off were mainly part of the live-events and marketing divisions. The Atlantic is also cutting executive pay and freezing salaries.
“This writing is hard two times over,” David G. Bradley, the chairman of Atlantic Media, which publishes The Atlantic, wrote in a note informing the staff of the layoffs. “It is the hardest writing in my 22 years with The Atlantic. And, for some of us, it will prove harder to read than for me to write.”
He added that the layoffs resulted from “the overnight and near-complete undoing of in-person events and, for now, a bracing decline in advertising.”
But Mr. Bradley, who said in November that he would be less active once a new chief executive is found, acknowledged that The Atlantic might have eventually eliminated some of these roles even without the virus. “In the absence of a pandemic and global crisis, we would have found some kind of kinder contraction,” he said in the memo. “Surely, we would have paused over furloughs instead of severance if we believed the positions were coming back.”
The laid-off Atlantic workers will receive “a minimum of 16 weeks salary,” as well as two additional weeks of pay “for each year of service beyond the first year,” according to the memo.
The Atlantic, which was founded by heavyweights of American thought including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes and once counted President Abraham Lincoln as a loyal subscriber, has gone through significant changes in recent years. In 2017, Emerson Collective, the organization founded by Ms. Powell Jobs, agreed to acquire a majority stake in the publication from Mr. Bradley. The Atlantic then went on a hiring spree under its editor in chief since 2016, Jeffrey Goldberg, adding roughly 100 newsroom employees.
In September, the publication started charging for its expanded website. Since adding the pay wall, it has sold 160,000 subscriptions and now has a total of 500,000 print and digital subscriptions, said a spokeswoman, Anna Bross.
The Atlantic has devoted significant resources to covering the pandemic. Its Covid Tracking Project has served as a reliable counter of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States. Its standout reports and essays have included Yascha Mounk’s “Cancel Everything” and Ed Yong’s “How the Pandemic Will End.” It started a podcast related to the crisis, “Social Distance,” as lockdown efforts went into effect across the country.
The coverage paid off: Since March, The Atlantic has added 90,000 subscribers, Mr. Bradley said, part of its overall 160,000 new subscribers. But the emphasis on subscriptions over advertising revenue was not enough to prevent the job cuts.
“This is the irony,” said Joanne Lipman, a distinguished fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study who has been a high-level editor at The Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast and Gannett. “News organizations have never done a better job than they’re doing right now. Their news has never been more in demand. They’ve been doing everything right from a news perspective. And yet here we are with these layoffs.”
Frequently Asked Questions and Advice
Updated May 20, 2020
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?
There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.
Can I go to the park?
Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.
How do I take my temperature?
Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
How do I get tested?
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
How can I help?
Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.
Ms. Powell Jobs noted the importance of sufficient funding for news media organizations in a speech in November.
“Traditional business models have been buffeted by the digital revolution,” she said in the speech, which was made at a benefit sponsored by the Committee to Protect Journalists. “As a result, scores of local newspapers have closed. Long-form and investigative journalism is underfunded. Too much of what takes place in the corridors of power is left uncovered because of a lack of resources.”
Ms. Powell Jobs, the 35th-richest person in the world, may have the resources to carry The Atlantic through any crisis — but Ms. Lipman said it would be a mistake for news organizations to depend on benefactors.
“That’s terrific,” she said of publications backed by rich patrons, “but that’s not a lasting solution for a business model.”
Since March, layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts have affected 37,000 workers in the news media industry in the United States, according to a New York Times estimate based on company announcements, public documents and interviews with news executives, union leaders and newsroom employees.