Is Atlantic Set To Become Pacific?

200506.jpgAt first glance, David Bradley‘s selection yesterday of New York Times writer James Bennet seems out of left field, but it actually looks to be more right in line with where the magazine has been focusing its efforts in the last two years since Michael Kelly left the magazine and Cullen Murphy edited with Bradley looking over his shoulder.

In hiring top talent, Bradley looks for people who can serve as part of his brain trust–executives like Clive Crook–and who share his worldview. Bradley’s search took nearly forever because he was waiting for someone who shared his vision. As he wrote to the staff yesterday, “Those of you who have tracked this issue closely, most by now have thought that this day would never come. Has anyone performed to slower, longer, later standard than I in my search for a new Atlantic editor?”

But at the end of that long road, he likely found someone who perfectly matched Bradley’s view of the future of the magazine.

Take for instance Bennet’s posting as the New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief. Since Murphy/Bradley ran the magazine, the Atlantic ran no fewer than seven cover stories on the Middle East and the Islamic world.

200507.jpgPlus, when looking at Bennet’s resume one might focus on what he’s done, but perhaps the most telling aspect of why he ultimately was chosen as editor is what he was about to do: Become the NYT’s voice in Beijing. The Atlantic has come to focus a lot of resources on the rising future of China and the threat that it poses to U.S. dominance. Two cover stories last year focused on the economic and security threats that a more aggressive China could pose, and the magazine was set to install its first China correspondent at the end of last year.

Beyond shared interests, Bradley was looking for someone interested in allowing him to still dabble in the vision. In a memo to staff late yesterday, Bradley wrote that he had wanted “a profound and extreme talent who led quietly, generous to others, with collegial respect.” The choice phrase of “quietly” speaks volumes about the magazine’s future–read, Bradley saying, “I want someone who will allow me to continue to direct this magazine where I want it to go.”

Oh, and don’t forget that Bennet is a graduate of St. Albans and Yale–important factors for Bradley, whose companies tend to view staff “diversity” as hiring executives from both Harvard and Yale.

So are we about to see a major refocusing of one of the nation’s major intellectual journals towards the rising threats of the Islamic world and Red China?

Bradley’s full memo to staff is after the jump.

> Continuing the newspaper’s odd decision to largely ignore the arrival of the Atlantic in Washington, the selection only gets the C4 brief treatment in the Post.


My Atlantic Media Colleagues:

Those of you who have tracked this issue closely, most by now have thought that this day would never come. Has anyone performed to slower, longer, later standard than I in my search for a new Atlantic editor?

Early last night I extended an offer to James Bennet to become the 14th editor in Atlantic’s 150 year run. For those who don’t know James or his work, I’ll offer the quickest narrative. James is a Washingtonian, educated first at St. Albans and then at Yale. Taking a path followed by some of the great journalists of our times (Jim Fallows, Nick Lemann, Michael Kinsley), James began his writing and editing career under Charlie Peters at the Washington Monthly. His climb through the ranks of the New York Times, thereafter, has been vertical: metro reporter, Detroit bureau chief, White House correspondent, Sunday Magazine staff writer, Jerusalem bureau chief and, now, studying Chinese preparing for reassignment to Beijing. Not irrelevant to the Atlantic, James is among the Times’ most respected long-form writers.

Beginning last April, I began what I called my Hillary Clinton Listening Tour, traveling the country and asking advice on the extreme talent today in journalism. Though hardly all were candidates themselves, just under 80 editors and writers spent time with me, offering names, offering counsel. This must have been a tax on their time. More, it was a tax on the remarkable leaders of the Atlantic – first Cullen Murphy, then Scott Stossel – managing the transition from Boston, the transition to all but a new staff, without benefit of a named editor. I’ve not seen a greater labor in my few years in journalism.

The deliberate search did have this advantage. Seeing so many professionals of exceptional talent, you begin to get a “lock” on the nature and the character and the talent that you think would best fit the organization. Even before I met James in this round, I had a view of what a James might be. Here, and in particular, I wanted a profound and extreme talent who led quietly, generous to others, with collegial respect. On all scores, but surely these, I have conviction on James’ appointment.

With my respect and best wishes.

David Bradley