National Journal Pivots

Boxed in, Beltway brand looks for larger audience

The Atlantic Media Co.’s National Journal Group has been focusing on retooling its pricey membership services for Beltway insiders in an intensifying battle with Bloomberg LP, Politico and The Economist Group for the D.C. market.

Now, it seems to be acknowledging that it can’t live on the Beltway alone. The group's president Bruce Gottlieb yesterday announced a big reorg that, among other things, will involve trying to extend its website’s appeal to a national audience.

The site will have its own dedicated edit staff of about 25 people and will evolve into its new form over the next several months. National Journal’s Ron Fournier will play a starring role, and a search is underway for a new editor to oversee the site.

The reorg goes to show that, notwithstanding National Journal’s claims of success selling memberships, it’s still heavily reliant on the print ad market—one that’s been soft in D.C. To grow, National Journal has to look outside D.C. and beyond print.

The brand will clearly have its work cut out for it, given that the site doesn’t already have a dedicated staff in place and, perhaps as a result, its traffic is relatively tiny; National Journal doesn't normally give out figures, but revealed that it had 3.1 million monthly uniques and 9.1 million page views in October (Omniture). There’s also a glut of political coverage online, from massive, traditional players like The New York Times or well-funded digital ones like Bloomberg and Politico. Whether can attract an audience large enough to lure blue-chip advertisers is a big question.

Gottlieb wouldn’t say what kind of traffic growth he’s gunning for. But the company has had success with this approach at its flagship The Atlantic, which came back from the brink by making an aggressive push online, and it’s trying to replicate the approach at its business startup Quartz. Gottlieb recently took over for Andy Sareyan, who left after a year in the position. (His departure was amicable; Sareyan, who had been commuting from Connecticut, cited family issues.)

“There is a great economic model for high-quality, digital-only content that appeals to national influentials,” Gottlieb said. “We’ve been successful at The Atlantic, we’re off to a great start with Quartz, so we’re taking this great brand and doing the same thing with the intersection of politics and policy.”