Atlantic Media has lost one of the chief architects of its digital reinvention, as president Justin Smith has accepted a new job running Bloomberg’s media group, according to a report in the New York Times that was later confirmed by the magazine and by Smith. The Atlantic executive was hired in 2007 by Atlantic owner David Bradley and is widely credited with helping to reverse the financial fortunes of the once struggling 156-year-old publication by expanding aggressively on the web and launching a number of new ventures.
In a letter to Atlantic staff, Bradley paid tribute to Smith’s contribution to the magazine, saying he and the team that he assembled accomplished a “reversal of fortune for a magazine in a 60-year decline [and] a doubling of revenues” as well as a return to profitability, the launch of new properties including Atlantic Cities, AtlanticWire and Quartz, a growing events business and 25 million monthly Atlantic readers and visitors. Said Bradley:
“Justin’s beliefs were fierce: That the revolution underway in media is more radical than we — the industry — appreciate. That the contest between legacy and insurgent players is mortal, with advantage to the insurgents. That surviving legacy properties will have had to learn the disciplines of the insurgents — and that they can.”
Smith, a former head of corporate strategy for The Economist and a co-founder of Breaking Media — a group of sites including Above The Law and Fashionista — will take over as CEO of Bloomberg Media Group from Andrew Lack, who becomes chairman, and will report to Daniel Doctoroff, Bloomberg’s chief executive. Doctoroff told the New York Times: “We know that every part of media is being disrupted by technology, and we need someone who understands that.”
The announcement of Smith’s departure from Atlantic Media also brought tributes from a number of media-industry observers, including Google’s Eric Schmidt, who told the New York Times:
“How many people have really managed to be successful in digital media? Everyone has tried and few have been successful. Justin is one of them. He is moving very fast, but this is the next logical step. It’s a serious gain for Bloomberg.”
In addition to launching new digital ventures, The Atlantic has also been one of the most prominent proponents of “sponsored content” as an alternative to traditional advertising — a move that got the magazine into hot water when it ran a widely-criticized feature on Scientology. Smith talked about this and other monetization strategies during a panel about monetization alternatives at our paidContent Live conference in April, which is embedded below.
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