The Atlantic, the magazine of American ideas, is going global

Since its founding in 1857, The Atlantic has been a fundamentally American magazine.

It was launched by leading lights of American literature: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Nathaniel Hawthorne reported for the magazine from Civil War battlefields. President Abraham Lincoln once said that a favorable article in the magazine could save him seven or eight battles in the Civil War.

But soon, for the first time, The Atlantic will have permanent homes on both sides of the ocean whose name it bears.

Earlier today, The Atlantic announced that it's setting up a global bureau based in London. Led by longtime correspondent James Fallows (who will be its first Europe editor), the 10-person bureau will bring The Atlantic's mix of journalism, events and marketing to the wider world. In doing so, it joins the likes of The Huffington Post, Politico, BuzzFeed and Breitbart, which have all established international footprints in recent years.

Although The Atlantic may be rooted in America, the magazine has always had an eye for international events, Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic's editor, said in an email. An announcement from the magazine noted that The Atlantic's inaugural issue was supposed to be composed of international reportage, but "the trunk containing those essays was lost on a New York pier." Articles on ISIS and European anti-semitism have been recent hits for the magazine, and Fallows has reported from Shanghi, Tokyo and Beijing.

"I wouldn't do anything to change The Atlantic's DNA," Goldberg told Poynter in an email. "The Atlantic, from its founding, has been intensely interested in Europe — putting people there allows us to cover an important subject more deeply, and it will help us find new readers interested in our high-quality, analytical approach to the great trans-Atlantic issues of the day."

By expanding to Europe, The Atlantic hopes to enrich its coverage of the world, and, by doing so, enhance its coverage of America, said Bob Cohn, the president of The Atlantic. But there's a clear appetite for the magazine's journalism overseas, he says — 28 percent of The Atlantic's audience is outside the United States, with strong readership in Canada, the UK and Australia. Of its 34 million monthly unique visitors, 9.5 million of them are outside the U.S.

"That’s a big platform," Cohn said. "And what we really want to do is better serve that audience and serve our American readers with better overseas coverage at the same time."

Although President Trump's election has certified the rise of right-wing populism around the world, The Atlantic began planning to expand "long before Donald Trump was elected," Cohn said. Increasing globalization has created a bigger, more interconnected story to tell and created a business case for expanding overseas.

Why London? It's a major business and cultural capital of Europe, Cohn said. Plus, The Atlantic is an English-language magazine, and London is one of the pillars of the English-speaking world.

There's already been encouraging signs that The Atlantic's business model will work overseas. The magazine's annual urban innovation conference, Citylab, was held in London in 2015, one of several events they've scheduled abroad.

Whereas BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post and Vice have established beachheads in several international countries in short order, The Atlantic appears to be proceeding at a relatively slower pace. Cohn described the London outpost as a "first stage," leaving the door open for further growth if the initial expansion is a hit.

"This is the first stage, and I have a lot of confidence that it’s going to work," Cohn said.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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