What an editor discovered in choosing the 160-year-old Atlantic's ‘greatest hits’

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Newsroom finds curious relevance — and surprising readership — from its archives

These days, high-level curation, challenging but exhilarating, can pay dividends for news outlets. The Atlantic’s Annika Neklason has just finished a 32-week master course, selecting and posting one article per day from the 160 years of the magazine.

Neklason found lessons for others prospecting for gold in their own archives.

Atlantic readers gravitated to strong stories from decades ago that could have been written today: How organized crime has taken over Russia. The pathway of a gun to a mass school shooting. The Runaway Presidency. Why Americans hate the media. How, after a high-profile case of sexual misconduct, this is the year of the woman.

The authors included Helen Keller, Julia Ward Howe, William Faulkner, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy, Edith Wharton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Erik Larson and Rebecca West.

From writers such as W.E.B. Du Bois and John Muir, “the style of the prose seemed so contemporary,” said Neklason, an assistant editor of The Atlantic and keeper of its archives since January 2017. Of Du Bois, reflected in an 1897 article, “He’s giving a more direct voice to things than most writers at that time,” Neklason said.

The project, launched in November, gave Neklason the chance to prowl through 50,000-plus articles. Down these rabbit holes, Neklason developed a deep understanding of The Atlantic’s heritage.

“It does feel like a superpower to have this much history in my job,” she said.

That knowledge, she said, also gave her perspective. Throughout America’s recent difficulties, she read writers dealing with giant issues (slavery, The Great Depression, a continent’s slide toward fascism, the dawn of the nuclear area). Among her picks: Frederick Douglass's 1867 "Appeal to Congress for Impartial Suffrage."

In her essay capping the series, Neklason gave the last words to Ralph Waldo Emerson. The American idea “has, of course, its sinister side," Emerson wrote. "But if followed it leads to heavenly places.”

Quick hits

ESCAPING THE ‘THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM’ TRAP: Rafat Ali, journalist and entrepreneur, decries the failing patterns in the business and media — and tells us what he does like. “I am biased for the underdogs in media, of which many exist but don’t get the spotlight,” he wrote. “Above all, I am biased for those *always, always*, doing their own thing in media.”

HOW TO REPORT VIA CHAT APPS, ETC.: “Facebook for organizing and talking about protests, Twitter for messages to followers about activities, and Snapchat for real-time unfolding of events.” That’s a snippet from a report by the BBC’s Mark Frankel, figuring out how best — or even if — to report from closed or semi-closed platforms like WhatsApp, Discord, and Facebook Groups. Via Nieman Lab.

THE POWER OF NEWSLETTERS: The New York Times reports it now has more than 14 million subscribers to its 55 email newsletters. “I think readers appreciate having someone else do a lot of the work in sorting out what’s important and highlighting what in The Times they should spend their (limited) time on,” wrote London-based editor Chris Stanford, who sends out the U.S. Morning Briefing to 1.6 million subscribers. Elisabeth Goodridge, the NYT's editorial director of newsletters, offered five tips for those starting newsletters: 1. Know your audience 2. Have an expert write it 3. Design it beautifully 4. Maintain it with best practices in mind 5. “Offer something valuable that you can’t get anywhere else.”

PROMOTED: Christa Scharfenberg to CEO of The Center for Investigative Reporting, America's first nonprofit investigative journalism organization. Scharfenberg previously was the head of studio, overseeing CIR’s audio and documentary initiatives. She has helped oversee successful innovations in the organization, such as Reveal, the investigative reporting public radio show and podcast, 

DEPARTING: Two senior editors at The Boston Globe, Editorial Page Editor Ellen Clegg and Sports Editor Joe Sullivan, the Boston Business Journal reported. Clegg said that it was time to “turn the page,” and Northeastern j-school prof Dan Kennedy said he and Clegg would be working on a project, likely a textbook on opinion journalism, after she leaves the Globe in mid-August. Sullivan’s last day was Monday, and he has been replaced by Matt Pepin, previously digital sports editor.

ARRIVING: Investigative reporter Jack Gillum, from The Washington Post to ProPublica. Gillum will cover technology and the ways algorithms, big data and social media platforms impact civil rights.

LOCALIZE THIS: She cuts the size of her weekly trash down to a stunningly small jar, The Washington Post reported. Do you have local residents taking the Zero Waste Challenge? What have they learned?

What we’re reading

MY DAD, AMERICA AND NATO: If my dad were still around, I wonder what the NATO fan, Navy vet and lifelong Republican would think about Americans turning against the alliance with Europe? It's happening, and the president is spurring it on, said NYMag's Jonathan Chait. 

DON'T WANT TO JINX IT: There's an unfamiliar feeling among English soccer fans these days: Hope. If it defeats Croatia today, England will make the finals of the World Cup, which it last won in 1966. The Atlantic's Sophie Gilbert talks about the awkward national adjustment to sports success.

A STORY WITHOUT A VILLAIN: Molly Roberts argued that's why the world was captivated by the ultimately successful rescue of 12 young soccer players and their coach, trapped June 23 in a flooded cave in Thailand. Poynter's Roy Peter Clark used three different methods to measure the story. His take: The cave tale carried "a kind of primal, archetypal narrative energy that makes us both afraid and hopeful."

On Poynter.org

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Thanks, Kristen Hare, for editing.

Have a great Wednesday. That England-Croatia match starts at 2 p.m. eastern time.

 

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