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Nov. 19, 2013, 2:12 p.m.
Business Models

The Atlantic Wire gets a new (shorter) name and a new look

One of The Atlantic’s first spinoffs, the company wants to transform The Wire into a gritty look at life on the streets of Baltim…I mean, a mobile-friendly destination for both heavy and light news consumers.

Goodbye The Atlantic Wire; hello, The Wire.

In relaunching its breaking news focused aggregator, Atlantic Media decided to take its name off the door in favor of creating an independent, more compact brand. It’s not a case of abandonment, but an attempt to keep in step with the way the news site has tried to operate for the last four years: short and to the point. It’s a new name, a new URL (thewire.com), and a more mobile-friendly look that adapts to almost any screen size.

As The Atlantic Wire, the site made its name as a breaking news feed that pointed readers to the day’s top stories and best writing — aggregation with a higher value-add than your typical headline-and-blockquote engine. As The Wire, The Atlantic wants to build a news service that can thrive in the era of social media. As The Wire editor Gabriel Snyder, sees it, the overall goal isn’t changing that much. “I want to make The Wire a place where you can catch up quickly on whats going on in the world,” Snyder said.

Social channels have changed the way people discover and consume news, and also changed the process for newsgathering and delivery, Snyder said. “The Wire is founded on this idea that we live in an age where people are media omnivores,” he told me.

While The Atlantic name is going away, it’s not difficult to see The Wire in the context of the broader Atlantic Media company. Over the past several years, Atlantic Media has branched further away from its magazine mothership, adding several independent sites to its family, including Quartz and Defense One.

The Atlantic Wire was one of the company’s first experiments in spinning off an online brand from the 156-year-old magazine; now the company is employing lessons from expanding portfolio to distinguish The Wire as an entity of its own. As part of the relaunch, The Wire will have a dedicated staff for ad sales. According to the company, the site now averages 6 million monthly unique visitors, with 40 percent of the site’s traffic coming from mobile.

Over email, M. Scott Havens, president of The Atlantic, said the site is ready to step out on its own. “It’s less about removing The Atlantic from the name and more about establishing The Wire’s independent identity in both form and function,” Havens said. “Over the last four years, The Wire has grown and evolved and has now established itself as a go-to news platform for millions of readers.”

The Wire’s new look is responsive to meet the needs of readers on different devices. The homepage is designed to help readers navigate the big need-to-know stories of the day. In place of the usual navigation bar at the top of the page with fixed topics or sections, The Wire features a changing collection of topics that reflect the day’s news. Snyder calls it “story-based navigation.” (It’s sticky, which not everyone likes.)

Oldatlanticwire

The old Atlantic Wire.

The homepage now also offers more slots to showcase top stories, and options to sort stories by what’s trending (using social sharing stats), what’s popular (clicks), or chronological order. Article pages get a refresh as well, with a wider story well, larger fonts, and a healthy dose of links to additional stories on the site. Snyder told me that homepage traffic for the site is growing, but they also wanted to offer more ways to push readers deeper into the site. (It’s also worth noting that the redesign hides comments by default, a larger trend we’ve seen across a lot of site. The last redesign of The Atlantic doesn’t hide comments, but it buries them underneath a giant stack of story promos.)

The homepage layout, a grid photos and clever headlines, gives The Wire a look similar to social media friendly sites like Digg. (Or: “Digg, but more confusing?”) Snyder said it’s a design oriented for different types of audiences, from the savvy reader who reads multiple sources each day, to those looking for a one-stop read. “I kind of think of our audience as rings of concentric circles, going from the outer ring of someone who clicks a link and arrives at the site having no idea who we are and what it’s about, down to the inner core, the people who have made it a habit to come to the site every day or multiple times a day,” Snyder said.

As a news site, The Wire is mostly a generalist, focusing on stories in politics, business, technology, and culture. The differentiator, Snyder says, is their approach, which prizes concise writing and smart aggregation. That strategy is what set The Wire apart from its parent magazine in the beginning, Havens said. “The Atlantic, in both the magazine and online, primarily provides original analysis and insight, whereas The Wire is a real-time filter of news and information, helping readers absorb the day’s top stories, voices, and opinions — and understand the context, quickly,” he said.

You’re not going to find latest-news updates on The Atlantic on a given day. Similarly, you’re not going to find the defined brands of a James Fallows, Ta-Nehisi Coates, or Alexis Madrigal. But over the years the connection between the two sites generated some confusion, both over the relationship between them and the editorial structure. The overlap between the audiences of the two sites is fairly small, Snyder told me. What the two properties share, he said, is the same philosophy on writing, reporting, and editorial integrity. But the audiences are distinct, he said.

“Confusion is what were trying to address. It’s not clear from our current branding that The Wire is produced by a separate editorial team,” he said.

If there’s one thing Atlantic Media is looking for right now it’s clean and clear lines between its properties. The company wants each title to be ambitious, resourceful, and free to develop its own audience and money-making possibilities. Havens said the best way to do that is to make the brands independent and “free the team from too much bureaucracy, and encourage the group to foster its own culture of innovation.”

The media environment hasn’t become any less crowded in the four years since The (Atlantic) Wire was first born. News consumers wield even more power over the way their news is delivered and how they read it. Snyder said the redesigned Wire is meant to not just adapt to readers’ device preferences, but also their news consumption habits. “Everyone has their niche interest, but I think there’s still a hunger for a wider understanding of what’s going on in other people’s niche interests,” Snyder said.

POSTED     Nov. 19, 2013, 2:12 p.m.
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