For a narrative magazine, an unlikely new oasis

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The Atavist Magazine finds a home in the WordPress universe 

What's it like to go from a staff of four to a company of 800? For The Atavist Magazine, a 9-year-old digital monthly and a National Magazine Award feature winner, it means more Zoom video meetings and Slack channels for communication with new colleagues.

The magazine's acquisition last month by the Automattic/ family — a small part of a package deal that includes the Atavist's content-management system and subscription system, highly regarded by other creators — won't change the magazine's commitment to top-flight narrative journalism, says Seyward Darby, the magazine's editor-in-chief. 

“For our subscribers and writers, nothing is changing,” says the Brooklyn-based Darby, a former editor at Foreign Policy and The New Republic. The magazine is simply one huge, well-designed propulsive story at the end of each month, such as June's take on a contrarian pioneer of America's gay rights movement, Dale Jennings, who told a California court in 1952 that he was homosexual. That was 17 years before the Stonewall Riots in New York's Greenwich Village.

Seyward Darby
Seyward Darby

The magazine relies upon subscriptions and also — intriguing to Automattic as it expands its original content offerings — has experience in getting its work optioned by Hollywood. Darby says she's always looking for tips at pitching long-form articles for TV or movies by looking at documentaries and films like a favorite, "Manchester by the Sea."

"Can you imagine," she asks, "if that were nonfiction?" 

The Zoom and Slack channels may help the magazine on one front: It may identify fact-checkers or other resources from another narrative unit, Longreads, which was acquired by Automattic in 2014. Darby says there's plenty to learn as well: She's fascinated with Longreads' podcasts, such as this series produced with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The heart of her job, Darby says, using a cooking metaphor, is keeping several stories on various burners, close to publication, cooking along, or on pause on some back burner.

“We’re not trying to hit breaking news, make a peg,'' she says. "We’re looking for a story that is timeless. We want a story to be as strong as it could be.”

Quick hits

PART OF THE STORY: Normally, journalists from Maryland's Capital Gazette cover the Fourth of July parade in Annapolis. Yesterday, the survivors of last week's mass newsroom shooting marched in the parade, some with tears in their eyes. They were cheered on by their neighbors and their community. "The faces I saw and the friends I saw convinced me it was the right decision to be out there, and to be with our wider family," said Editor Rick Hutzell. "And it felt good.”

SET YOUR ALARM: The Capital Gazette and several journalism groups urge you to mark a moment of silence at 2:33 p.m. ET in memory of five newspaper employees slain a week ago in the Annapolis newsroom attack that began at that time.

ALWAYS ON: What's it like to be a top "streamer?" The New Yorker's Adrian Chen profiles Paul Denino, better known as his foul-mouthed alter ego Ice Poseidon, watched by from 10,000 to 65,000 during two- to six-hour streams daily. It often turns into chaos. "If your job is to constantly share your life," Chen writes, "your life becomes a product that you are selling, and every moment, even the worst one, can be a lucrative opportunity to please your audience."

WHO DRIVES TRAFFIC?: It isn’t even close on external referrals, at least according to the dashboard of the audience specialist Google is the blue line; Facebook the green line. (h/t Meena Thiruvengadam)

Illustration: Used with permission.

REASSIGNED: New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, from Washington to New York, after an investigation of her relationship with a Congressional source. In the same announcement, Editor Dean Baquet denounced a government leak investigation involving Watkins as “an attempt to interfere with the work of journalists by an administration whose leader has called the media 'the enemy of the people.'”

SLAIN: A police reporter in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. José Guadalupe Chan Dzib said he was being threatened shortly before he was killed Friday, Teresa Mioli reports.

FINDING READERS WHERE THEY ARE: Google, YouTube and Facebook are pushing readers to Wikipedia to determine if a news source is solid. A researcher proposes helping news outlets by buffing up their Wikipedia pages to persuade new readers that they are credible, Poynter’s Taylor Blatchford reports. Academic Mike Caulfield says it’s a no-brainer: “So many solutions to the misinformation problem are coming from various providers, platforms, coders, that rely on Wikipedia as a piece of how they’re doing it.”

TENTATIVE AGREEMENT: It took 14 months, but The Washington Post and the region’s News Guild settled on $15-a-week pay increase now and a year after contract signing. The Guild recommends approval, but Splinter's Hamilton Nolan says owner Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, could have added more to a four-week maternity leave or to a 1 percent match on a 401K.

A NEW FRONTIER: The Canadian Broadcasting Company’s North division did its first web story Tuesday in Inuktitut (it broadcasts regularly in the language), says CBC’s Nick Murray. Here it is in English, and the headline and lead in Inuktitut are below:


What we’re reading

NEWS THEY CAN USE: Tracy Brumfield started a paper to help inmates find out about jobs, housing and retraining once they got out. It has been a lifeline. By Parija Kavilanz.

ALONE: He’s 12. His mom was killed, her body found in a septic tank. His father pledged to get him away from the violence. His dad was separated by Trump’s policies and deported. Now Brayan is alone, despite the efforts of his grandmother — and the obstacles Washington throws in her way.

ANOTHER RECORD: This year has seen an unprecedented number of Native Americans running for U.S. Congress or statewide offices, NPR's Leila Fadel and Talia Weiner report. Among them: Deb Haaland, a former New Mexico Democratic Party chief, who may become the first Native American woman in the U.S. House.


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Thanks to Kristen Hare for editing this.

Have a great day, and we’ll catch up with another roundup tomorrow.



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