MEDIA

National Journal Ends Print Edition, Newsroom Cuts Expected

"In the long run, I don’t think a weekly print magazine can thrive."

NEW YORK -- National Journal, a staple Washington politics and policy magazine relaunched just last year, will suspend its print edition, Atlantic Media chief David Bradley announced Thursday.

In a memo obtained by The Huffington Post, Bradley was apologetic about the decision, which he said stemmed from his view that a weekly print magazine cannot thrive given the speed of the online political news cycle. 

National Journal "should move the whole of its journalism to the higher-velocity work of our daily publications," which includes Hotline, National Journal Daily, and the magazine's website, Bradley said. He indicated there will be a reduction in staff.  

"Almost certainly, without the magazine, the size of our newsroom will be reduced," Bradley wrote. "That said, I’m not drawn, here, to proposing layoffs.  My intention is that our editors begin talking with each National Journal editorial staff member about what she or he would like to do – as a matter of first or second preference.  We will do our best to help each person stay in place, or be reassigned, or transition to a new employer."

Editor-in-chief Tim Grieve, who joined in 2013 from Politico, will stay with the publication through the transition, said a spokeswoman for Atlantic Media, which owns National Journal. But Grieve's long-term plans remain undetermined. The situation is similar for Richard Just, a former top editor at The New Republic who joined National Journal to overhaul the print magazine. 

In a statement, Just said he understands the business motivations for folding the the print product, but is “disappointed to see the magazine ending at a moment when I believe it is, by any standard, thriving journalistically.”

It’s unclear how long the transition period will last, as management attempts to find places for magazine staffers elsewhere in Atlantic Media. The print magazine will be published through the end of the year. 

Bradley said it was the third time he's had to reduce a publication's staff in his career, but pledged to not leave anyone "on the street." He faulted himself for having "failed" the magazine by not following the advice of long-time Washington Post steward Don Graham: "Eyes on, hands off."

"A few years back (before virtually any of you was in place), distracted from National Journal’s work, I took both my eyes and hands off the task," he wrote. "In the long run, I don’t think a weekly print magazine can thrive.  Still, had I not failed for a time in my role, I think National Journal might have prospered longer."

Read Bradley's full memo to staff, which includes upcoming plans for National Journal's website:

 National Journal Colleagues,

 Some writings are easier than others.  I suppose the first very hard memo for me was writing my Atlantic colleagues in Boston, telling them my plans to move the magazine to Washington.  But, this note will be memorably difficult as well. 

 The News in this Writing

 After a great deal of reflection – and all the modeling and scenario planning you would expect – I’ve decided that the National Journal should move the whole of its journalism to the higher-velocity work of our daily publications, National Journal Daily and Hotline, and to our hour-by-hour coverage on NationalJournal.com.  The bittersweet part of this writing, as you will have seen, is my conclusion that, likely at the year’s end, we should suspend publication of the National Journal print magazine.

 Almost certainly, without the magazine, the size of our newsroom will be reduced.  That said, I’m not drawn, here, to proposing layoffs.  My intention is that our editors begin talking with each National Journal editorial staff member about what she or he would like to do – as a matter of first or second preference.  We will do our best to help each person stay in place, or be reassigned, or transition to a new employer.

I want you to know that I understand that this is not a happy outcome for some important number of you.  I can’t solve that problem, but I can tell you I’m truly sorry.  I am.  What I want to do is help address fear.  This is the third time in my career that I have reduced the number of staff at one publication or in one location.  I have never left anyone “on the street.”  I won’t do that here.

My Thinking in Brief

As to the reasoning, I want to explain the largest consideration and then share a more-personal truth.  The large consideration feels most obvious:  news in Washington now moves too quickly for a weekly publication.  We will be investing in our daily publication, National Journal Daily, in NationalJournal.com, in Hotline, and in a mobile app.  But, likely, the best years of weekly print magazines are passed.

The more-personal statement is that, as to the magazine, I believe I failed.  When I first entered publishing, Don Graham taught me his motto:  “Eyes on, hands off.”  A few years back (before virtually any of you was in place), distracted fromNational Journal’s work, I took both my eyes and hands off the task.  In the long run, I don’t think a weekly print magazine can thrive.  Still, had I not failed for a time in my role, I think National Journal might have prospered longer.

At a minimum, I don’t assign any fault to our editors and writers.  The problems here were strategic – and mine entirely.

The Larger National Journal Strategy

For that larger number of our editorial staff who will remain – and for all my other National Journal colleagues – I want to reassure you about the overall health of the National Journal.  Even with the print magazine in gentle decline, the whole of the National Journal is growing, growing in revenues, employees and capital invested.  Revenue growth, investment growth and staff growth are all between 10% and 20% this year.  Membership renewals are running a remarkable 93%.  I don’t know that those numbers have been better during my tenure.

I’ve come to think of our journalism as the capstone to a quieter work underway, underneath.  At its best, National Journal’s journalism may be the best thing we do.  But, it rests, now, on a very stable, very smart and rapidly-expanding platform.  As background only, four years past, we converted the larger part of our NJ “subscribers” into NJ “members.”  The intent was twofold:  (1) We wanted to lead with teachability; we now have 15 full-time staff, engaged in 2,000 conversations a year, asking members how we might best serve them.  (2) We wanted the ethic of our work to be generous – that members could have unlimited subscriptions to our publications, access to our slides and graphics, copies of our studies, attendance at our meetings.  Whatever we have, it is for our members in unlimited amount.

The discipline of deep listening has yielded a progeny of new services and products, each almost wholly original in the field of public policy.  Most of you know these services already; half our staff works on member services. In the main, they are best-practice reports and value-added tools intended to increase the effectiveness of our members as they work in Washington.  They are, as well, the most secure platform I’ve seen for building a journalism enterprise.

My Commitment to Media

As to our work in media – National Journal Daily, NationalJournal.com, Next America and Hotline – my ambition is unqualified.  In as crowded a field as coverage of Washington, our work must be remarkable.  The advantage I would like us to seek is in clear thinking, original insight and deep utility.  National Journal should be the home for great thinking and beautiful writing.  I love my children equally here; each publication should be exceptional.

It’s a little in the weeds, but I thought I might list some of our first plans for the fall:

September Re-launch of NationalJournal.com

  • 100% redesign
  • High-velocity curated news feed
  • Mobile utility products
  • News alerts
  • Expanded wire coverage 

Expanded National Journal Daily (print and digital)

  • Movement of National Journal magazine investment to National Journal Daily
  • Expanded daybook
  • Hill leadership news (new)
  • Hill people news (new)
  • Top 100 competitive races (new)
  • Daily graphic of the day’s events (new)
  • Increased frequency of in-depth committee profiles (expanded)
  • Enhanced data analysis (new)

 Spin-Out of Next America

  • Rapidly growing platform reporting on demographic changes in the U.S.
  • Increased staff to expand reach and impact
  • Eventual spin-off into its own digital platform

One final word on media, if I may:  17 years ago, I did not leave the Corporate Executive Board and the Advisory Board Company just to graze in greener pasture.  Media is hardly that.  I entered the profession for my love of journalism and my love of the Washington, DC it covers.  I am, today, as committed to this work as I was at the first.

 

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