November 9, 2018

At first blush, The Atlantic had a bang-up 2018 midterm season, knocking out scoops and filing thoughtful pieces with a volume it had not done before.

Yet the improvement came during only the first leg of a scheduled hiring of 100 journalists for the venerable magazine and site, giving only a glimpse of its potential and "tremendous ambition" for 2020 coverage, said Adrienne LaFrance, editor of

Indeed, my Election Day interview with LaFrance occurred just hours before The Atlantic announced it was hiring national affairs writer George Packer from The New Yorker. Like two other go-go publications this year, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic is owned by a billionaire; in this case it's Laurene Powell Jobs, whose commitment to journalism appears strong in trying political times.

LaFrance said the hiring spree conveys the sense of urgency of the moment, paired with the mandate to maintain its high standards. Hitting America's moments of urgency has been The Atlantic's forte since its founding 160 years ago. (Related: How The Atlantic culled the best from its archives

Some of the newer hires include Jemele Hill, recently departed from ESPN; Yara Bayoumy from Reuters as a senior editor leading national security coverage; the NYT's Prashant Rao as The Atlantic’s new, London-based global editor; Edward-Isaac Dovere as a staff writer covering politics; Amanda Mull as a staff writer covering health; and Shan Wang to expand its newsletters and other new ventures.

Winning articles this week included Hill's first-person account of her possible disenfranchisement from Florida voting; Adam Serwer's essay that racism, not tribalism, has upended America's vote, a notion reinforced by Peter Beinart; and Vann R. Newkirk II's assertion that the Democrats' Deep South strategy was a winner after all.

The Atlantic also was opportunistic. Former Breitbart journalist Michelle Fields wrote that Jim Acosta is being attacked by the same Trump conspiracy theorists who accused her of lying in 2016 about being grabbed and bruised by a Trump aide.

Banning Acosta from the White House on a flimsy pretext, wrote Fields in a just-this-minute topical piece, is dangerous "because we live in a time when political radicals on all sides seem willing to act violently, whether it is by sending pipe bombs to the president’s perceived enemies, including CNN, or threatening to break into Tucker Carlson’s house."

LaFrance wants even more of this "smart, urgent, deeply reported" material. She also wants it (see: tremendous ambition) to be "internet stopping." 

Quick hits

RETRACTIONS: The Houston Chronicle retracted eight stories by former reporter Mike Ward after an investigation into his work could not uncover sources he named. David Wood said he could not find 122 people quoted in 72 stories that Ward had written from 2014 to 2018. In addition to the retracted stories, the Chronicle will be correcting others. Ward, who was the paper’s Austin bureau chief, resigned.

BIG CAMPAIGN CASH: Where did it matter? And where, counterintuitively, did it not? A fascinating Center for Public Integrity analysis also yields tidbits such as the successful effort to tie Indiana's Joe Donnelly to Elizabeth Warren. Donnelly was defeated. 

SUE TRUMP: That’s what Margaret Sullivan says CNN and press groups should do, citing First Amendment grounds, after the White House took away Jim Acosta’s press pass. “This merits a forceful response, and a lawsuit would be reasonable,” Sullivan quoted media-law professor Jonathan Peters as saying. Related: Is the doctored White House-distributed video of CNN's Acosta "visual propaganda?" Paul Farhi asks.

WHAT THE PRESS BEEF DISTRACTED US FROM: Tens of thousands of Americans in hundreds of communities nationwide protested Trump's hiring of an acting attorney general and threats to the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, investigating Trump for collusion and corruption. Thousands closed down mid-Manhattan traffic alone in the "Protect Mueller" rallies, organized within 24 hours by a coalition of progressive groups. Chicago's featured the "baby Trump" blimp and Sen. Dick Durbin, who called the attorney general appointment "unconstitutional."

ANOTHER THING TRUMP-ACOSTA DISTRACTED US FROM: The Democratic wave grew stronger Thursday, with candidates taking four more House seats, raising the number of flipped seats to 31 with a dozen seats still disputed. Florida's high-profile governor's and Senate races, which had seemed GOP victories, moved toward recounts, with a swell of last-counted ballots. The Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, took a 9,000-plus vote lead over early leader Martha McSally. 

OVERHAULED: After a walkout of more than 20,000 employees, Google is ending its policy of forced arbitration for victims of sexual assault or harassment. Google refused several demands of protesters, such as making its internal report on harassment public and putting an employee representative on the board, the NYT’s Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi report. Google also did not include temporary workers, vendors and contractors in the overhaul of its sexual misconduct policy.

BIG DONATION: The Knight Foundation gave a $5 million grant to the International Center For Journalists on Thursday night, allowing the ICFJ to expand its work connecting global journalism leaders with U.S. news organizations in the Knight Fellowship program. That's just one part of the five-year gift, announced during the ICFJ's annual awards dinner.

NO NEWS DESERT HERE: None of Minnesota’s counties are without a newspaper, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tough job making it these days, writes the Star-Tribune’s Neal Justin.

FOLLOWUP: Yesterday, we wrote of two researchers for the Committee to Protect Journalists were detained in Tanzania. They've been released and were being flown outside the country. 

MOVES: J. David Ake, deputy bureau chief for visual journalism at the AP’s Washington bureau, has been promoted to director of photography at the news service. The AP has won 31 Pulitzer Prizes for photography.


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