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July 16, 2015, 3:30 p.m.
LINK: www.nationaljournal.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   July 16, 2015

Just announced: National Journal, the policy-and-government-focused magazine published by Atlantic Media, will end its print edition at year’s end as part of “of a larger strategy to deepen its investment in and increase services customized for the Washington market.”

You could have spotted a preview of this moment in our piece earlier this month about how National Journal’s strategy was shifting towards what today’s announcement calls being “a comprehensive provider of tools, services, and journalism to help Washington practitioners of policy and politics do their jobs more successfully.”

Atlantic Media chairman David Bradley, in a memo to staff, says staffing will be reduced:

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.

Here’s the full release and, below that, Bradley’s complete memo to staff.

Washington, DC; July 16, 2015 — Chairman of Atlantic Media and owner of National Journal, David Bradley announced today that the National Journal magazine will suspend publication at year’s end as part of a larger strategy to deepen its investment in and increase services customized for the Washington market. Over the years, National Journal has evolved from a solely journalistic enterprise into a comprehensive provider of tools, services, and journalism to help Washington practitioners of policy and politics do their jobs more successfully. Today’s announcement is the next step in this evolution.

As the pace of news in Washington and the speed at which the National Journal audience consumes information grows, demands have shifted away from a weekly magazine to the higher-velocity work of the brand’s daily publications — National Journal Daily, Hotline, and NationalJournal.com. The decision to close the magazine allows for new investments in this journalism, led by Editor-in-Chief and President Tim Grieve, with enhanced daily and real-time news coverage and a redesigned website. National Journal Group CEO Tim Hartman continues to oversee the whole of the business.

The forty-six year old magazine will cease publication at the end of the year. Under editor Richard Just, it was nominated for its first National Magazine Award in over a decade.

“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,” wrote Mr. Bradley in a memo to National Journal staff about the membership business.

President and Publisher Poppy MacDonald has been leading National Journal’s groundbreaking Membership since its launch in 2011. The business has since grown 38 percent with 1000 member organizations and accounts for more than half of National Journal’s total revenue, which is on track to grow more than 12 percent this year. In its mission to serve Washington policy practitioners with the tools and services needed to succeed in an ever more competitive environment, National Journal Membership provides unlimited and on-demand access to products embedded into member work streams to save time and increase efficiency.

“Our top priority is to put clear, concise, and trusted information in front of the Washington audience. We believe that doing so will serve both our members, who rely on that information to do their jobs more effectively, and our advertisers, who are seeking to reach that audience,” said Ms. MacDonald.

Other Membership offerings include Policy Brand Roundtable (PBR), which helps partners measure and build their brand in Washington. The most recent product addition is the Communications Council, created in 2014 to help Washington organizations reach their target audiences through communications best practices.

Mr. Hartman said, “It’s a new era of advocacy and communications for our core customers — Members of Congress, their staffs and other practitioners of politics and policy. The more we meet their emerging needs, the better our business has performed. This principle will guide our ongoing growth and expansion across digital media and membership in the Washington market.”

The focus of National Journal’s media products will continue to be on providing in-depth journalism to the Washington professional and will put an increased focus on utilities, including daily coverage, news alerts, and tools that support the brand’s core users inside the Beltway.

Magazine resources will be redirected to an enhanced National Journal Daily, a product highly valued by both audience and advertisers. The print and digital publication’s expansion will start with increased coverage of Congress powered by a growing team of dedicated journalists. The Daily will also feature improved data analysis, including daily graphics informing the day’s events in government.

In September, an updated digital platform will debut, featuring updates across NationalJournal.com for readers and members. The digital overhaul prioritizes mobile viewing and will allow for higher velocity news coverage, faster loading times and enhanced user experience across devices.

Building on the customized membership experience, members will benefit from a personalized recommendation engine powering relevant content delivery based on an individual’s job and interests. For advertisers, NationalJournal.com will launch new custom ad units, tools to understand and improve ad viewability, and enhanced native advertising distribution opportunities.

National Journal’s events arm will continue to produce a series of live forums each year totaling over one hundred member-only and news driven events featuring Washington policy and news makers.

About National Journal: National Journal is a premium provider of essential insights and analysis for those operating in Washington’s policy and government arenas. Through its editorial, membership, advertising and events platforms, National Journal currently reaches over 3 million unique monthly visitors at NationalJournal.com, serves 1000 of Washington’s top organizations through its Membership, and convenes the nation’s top leaders at a combination of more than 100 live editorial and member events a year.

Tim Hartman is the Chief Executive Officer, Tim Grieve is President and Editor-in-Chief and Poppy MacDonald serves as President and Publisher. National Journal is a division of Atlantic Media.

David Bradley’s memo to staff:

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 from National 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.

Before lifting up, I want to pause over two of our top leaders. As to Tim Grieve, our editor-in-chief, and Richard Just, the magazine editor, I feel pure appreciation. Stating the obvious, I’m afraid, the receding tide for news weekly magazines is an impersonal force, unimpressed by, indifferent to, the force of any editorial team. For his time here, Tim has been a great force. As to raw intelligence, drive, editorial integrity, digital sophistication (NJ.com traffic has grown 50% under Tim) and an eye for talent, Tim is, in my experience, unsurpassed. And, then, there is this: Tim has proved a wonderfully-popular leader in the newsroom. One of Tim’s great finds has been Richard Just, an exquisite talent. In the one year we allowed Richard, before today’s decision, he redesigned the magazine, recruited some of the nation’s top long-form writers and earned the National Journal its first National Magazine Award nomination in a decade. As a team, Richard and his colleagues have been excellent. I’m so appreciative of Tim and Richard’s continued leadership through this transition.

In the first draft of this note, I closed by telling a story from my first days with National Journal — the Clinton scandal, impeachment and the fool’s errand of thinking I could manage Michael Kelly. The story was by way of saying how much I loved National Journal as a print magazine. But, given this note is personally hard for some number of you, these early stories feel off key. Instead, I’ll look for a time some weeks out when all of you, and all our alum, can join John Sullivan and me in an event to celebrate the good work of this magazine.

I hope to speak with you in person, later today.

With my high regard.

David

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