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Atlantic Media to take its time finding new editor-in-chief

In an unusual move in the publishing world, Atlantic Media tapped Nicholas Thompson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine, to be its new CEO after a year-and-a-half-long search.

Atlantic is hiring 45-year-old Thompson — who has spent the past 15 years as a journalist at Conde Nast publications including the New Yorker — to handle the business side of its operations, including profits, losses, advertising and subscription sales.

Anticipating skepticism from the rank-and-file, Atlantic Media owners Laurene Powell Jobs and David Bradley made the case for Thompson in a Thursday memo. Powell Jobs heads the Emerson Collective, which bought a majority stake in Atlantic Media in 2017 from Bradley, who maintained a minority stake and continues to be involved in operations.

“Nick brings a surround-sound coverage of relevant experience,” Bradley and Powell Jobs wrote. “Having been an editor, he is committed to the undergirding tenets of our work — superior editorial standards and complete editorial independence.”

Bradley is known for long and thorough searches to fill top positions even as he acknowledged that he plans to step down from day-to-day operations next year when he sells his minority stake to Emerson.

In his new role, Thompson will replace Bob Cohn, who announced his departure in June 2019, effective in September of that year. Thompson as well as the Atlantic’s editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg will report directly to the board of directors.

At Wired, Thompson didn’t strictly dabble in the daily grind of editing copy. He set up a pay wall at the tech-focused magazine during his two years as editor in chief. He also had played a key role in setting up the paywall at The New Yorker, where he was the top digital editor from 2012 to 2017.

Atlantic Media has increasingly moved to a model in which it relies on consumers to pay for digital subscriptions, even though it has said its advertising has held up this year despite the pandemic.

After some delays, it instituted a paywall on its digital offerings in October 2019 and now has 700,000 subscribers. That push will continue. The company said it has a goal of reaching 1 million subscribers by the end of 2022.

Also on Thursday, Atlantic Media announced it has tapped Michelle Ebanks, the former CEO of Essence Communications, to be an outside board member of Atlantic Media. The company said she is the first outside director and that it expects to name several additional outside board members in the new year.

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