‘The Atlantic’ Looks for New Audience With Cities Site

Magazine's digital editorial director envisions traffic in millions

The Atlantic, whose online push was key to getting the brand into the black last year, is launching another major expansion online, but with a new tack.

In a first for the magazine, TheAtlanticCities.com is launching as a single-topic, stand-alone site. Coming in September, the site also is a departure in that it will feature Richard Florida, an urban studies expert who comes from an academic rather than a journalism background. Florida is the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, among other titles, and has a long-standing relationship with the magazine and its offshoots.

The Atlantic hired Sommer Mathis as the site’s editor, and expects to add another four editorial staffers this year. Mathis was online editorial director for Washingtonian magazine, and before that had been a news editor for TBD.com, an experimental local news site for the D.C. area.

Bob Cohn, editorial director of Atlantic Digital, said the timing for Cities was right because the world is becoming predominately urban. As for whether the topic was big enough to support a stand-alone site, he told Adweek that The Atlantic sees it as broad enough to span many subtopics. (The site will have a regular column and city and state rankings from Florida, as well as coverage of areas like jobs, the economy, sustainability, architecture, and current thinking on urban issues.)

Cohn sees the new site appealing to policy types as well as a wider circle of people who care about urban matters—many of whom he believes aren't currently coming to TheAtlantic.com.  

“The main thing that gives us confidence that there’s an audience here is, stories we put on TheAtlantic.com on the broad topic of cities do very well,” he said. “In any given day, those stories will be high up on our list. Anecdotally, we have a sense Atlantic readers care about that topic.”

Cohn said TheAtlantic.com's existing city coverage won't change, although he foresees a “modest” amount of content sharing between the sites.

The new hub is one of a few ways The Atlantic saw itself replacing the traffic it lost when popular columnist Andrew Sullivan defected for Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast earlier this year, taking with him some 1 million monthly visitors. So far, though, it doesn’t look like the magazine has had any problem replacing those visitors: After Sullivan left in April, The Atlantic’s traffic increased to 10 million uniques in May, up from from 8.3 million uniques in March.

Asked about potential traffic for TheAtlanticCities, Cohn said, “We launched [The Atlantic Wire] 18 months ago and we now have 2 million visitors. We’d be happy if we could get to that number pretty quickly.”

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