These Print And Digital Publishers Are Redefining What It Means to Be a Media Brand in 2018

The New York Times, Bustle, Vogue and Axios are among those named to this year's Hot List

Adweek’s 2018 Publishing Hot List, from Hottest in Travel to Cover of the Year to Hottest in Sports

It’s been a remarkable year for journalism and storytelling, as legacy media outlets continue to find their new identities in this rapidly evolving digital era. Others have had to nimbly reimagine themselves after being acquired by new owners, all while strategizing for the future with new revenue streams.

We’ve seen great leadership from media executives from Bob Cohn, president of The Atlantic, who has seen revenue increase across all sectors (total revenue is up 13 percent), to Adweek’s Editor of the Year Dean Baquet, who has lead coverage of some of the most important stories out of today’s fast-paced news cycle as executive editor of The New York Times.

Here are our Hot List winners in publishing for 2018:

Publishing Executive of the Year
Bob Cohn

Daniel Lombroso / The Atlantic

The news media business isn’t easy, which is why news of an ambitious period of growth at The Atlantic announced earlier this year was met with surprise. (“You read that right,” The New York Times quipped.)

Led by president Bob Cohn, who oversees editorial, revenue and operations on all platforms, the 161-year-old publisher is seeing one of its best years ever by leaning into its ever-diversifying business while maintaining the editorial excellence that is key to The Atlantic brand. It helps that the philanthropic Emerson Collective, which is run by Laurene Powell Jobs, just bought a majority stake in the magazine, too. Cohn, a longtime journalist who spent five years on The Atlantic’s editorial side before becoming president, said he’s proud revenue is growing across all sectors—year over year, total revenue is up 13 percent—all while The Atlantic has preserved and strengthened its editorial ethos.

“We’ve really completed our transformation from being a magazine, which we have been for 161 years, to really being a multiplatform media company,” Cohn tells Adweek. “That transformation has been years in the making, but I feel like in the last year we can say that we’ve really turned the corner.”

Part of that transformation has involved three new podcasts, a growing events business that leans into flagship events like The Atlantic Festival and the hire of more than 100 new staffers, half of whom will be on the editorial side. Cohn says the magazine is about halfway finished with those hires, who include former ESPN commentator Jemele Hill, culture and health writer Amanda Mull and former Facebook executive Alex Hardiman. The latter will lead consumer revenue opportunities, audience experience and product.

As the end of 2018 approaches, Cohn says he’s looking for opportunities to bring The Atlantic’s journalism to television and to home voice assistants, along with expanding paid content options, to continue steering the publication forward.

“Wherever an Atlantic audience wants to consume Atlantic content—whether it’s in print or digital, social streams, audio, video, live events—we want to be there, and we want to turn to our partners and find ways to partner up and deliver advertising in those spaces,” Cohn says. “That’s what we’ve done, and some of our greatest and most reliable partners have come with us.”

Magazine of the Year
The New Yorker

From ground-shaking reporting on people who sit at the upper echelons of business, entertainment and government to incisive cultural commentary, The New Yorker is having one of its best and most consequential years in its 93-year history. Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer’s reporting on sexual harassers and abusers toppled powerful men and fueled the #MeToo movement, with Farrow’s reporting on the disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein resulting in a Pulitzer Prize (shared with The New York Times) for public service. The power of the publication’s journalism is translating on the business side, too, including an all-time-high circulation of 1.23 million, 264,000 new subscribers to the magazine in the last year and an average of 13.9 million U.S.-only monthly uniques on NewYorker.com in the second quarter, up 22 percent year over year. —Kelsey Sutton

Cover of the Year
Time — ‘Stormy’ covers

This year, Time has stood out from competitors in a fast-paced news cycle with bold cover designs tucked inside its signature red border. The magazine has grabbed readers’ attention since February with a series of covers depicting President Trump in an ever-worsening storm. In the first, wind is blowing through the Oval Office; in the second, water is rising; and in the third, he’s swimming for his life. Longtime contributor Tim O’Brien paints the covers on canvas and takes a digital photo of the painting, giving them an old and new feel all at once. In a news cycle that changes by the minute, Time’s covers feel relevant week after week. —Sara Jerde

Story of the Year
#MeToo

Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Getty Images

No one outlet can take full credit for reporting on the #MeToo movement, which yielded what was undoubtedly the biggest story of the past year. The New York Times’ breaking of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, opened the floodgates, quickly followed by additional details from The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow—who later broke stories about New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and CBS chief executive Les Moonves. The Washington Post’s reporting on Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore’s alleged pursuit of underage girls helped sway the election to his competitor Doug Jones, the first Democrat to represent the state in the Senate in 25 years. And, of course, this past spring saw a major reminder of the importance of investigative reporting when Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics team doctor who molested hundreds of women, was sentenced to decades in prison—a story that broke in a report from The Indianapolis Star. —Diana Pearl

Conversation Starter
The Cut, ‘How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People’

The story of Anna Delvey, a Manhattan socialite turned Rikers Island inmate whose deception was detailed in New York magazine’s women’s section, The Cut, shocked and delighted the media world and racked up more than 2 million unique visitors. The article by Jessica Pressler examined the lavish lifestyle of Delvey—real name Anna Sorokin—and how she was eventually charged with grand larceny for allegedly scamming wealthy New Yorkers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The story went viral, and Shonda Rhimes’ production company, Shondaland, acquired the rights to the article in May, with plans to develop it into a Netflix Original series. —K.S.

Website of the Year
The Cut

A sleek redesign and several buzzy stories—including this year’s Conversation Starter, “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People,” as well as three columns that earned a National Magazine Award—have helped propel New York magazine’s women’s site to new heights this past year. According to comScore, The Cut’s unique visitors grew an astounding 227 percent year over year. The site has also expanded into new revenue models, including a T-shirt line, event series and the unthinkable: its first-ever print issue. —D.P.

Hottest Magazine Redesign
National Geographic

In April, National Geographic launched a monumental redesign of its 130-year-old publication. The magazine debuted new sections highlighting the photography the periodical is famous for, including short photo essays and the stories behind its memorable pictures. The magazine relaunched with new typography on new paper, and the changes—which appealed to loyal readers while drawing in new ones—helped newsstand sales spike 16 percent year over year. —S.J.

Hottest Business Magazine
Bloomberg Businessweek

Bloomberg Businessweek has had another exceptional year, continuing to break news on the business, politics and tech fronts while pushing design boundaries and strengthening the magazine’s digital business. The periodical has a global print circulation of 600,000, and a majority of people who sign up for Bloomberg’s newly implemented tiered subscription plan choose the pricier $39.99 per month option that gives them access to Bloomberg Businessweek in addition to the company’s other news products. It makes sense why: From groundbreaking investigations into the data-mining firm Palantir to scoopy pieces on Facebook, Amazon, Uber and Tesla, Businessweek remains a must-read for business leaders, techies and legislators alike. The magazine’s design isn’t to be overlooked, either: Businessweek’s front cover remains a showcase for the weird and wonderful in the business world, from AI-created art to irreverent designs that poke fun at the glaring mistakes of major business leaders. —K.S.

Hottest Celebrity Magazine
People

It was a big year for celebrity and entertainment news thanks to a certain chicken recipe (Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got engaged while cooking it). People magazine capitalized on cultural moments like the royal wedding this summer to hit three record-breaking months in terms of visitors, peaking at 63 million unduplicated, digital unique visitors in June. The magazine took advantage of Meredith’s resources after the Time Inc. acquisition, expanding the People brand with its first podcast series and a prime-time series on Twitter called Chatter. —S.J.

Hottest Sports Magazine
ESPN The Magazine

In a tough print landscape, ESPN The Magazine is pulling out all the stops to remain the most culturally resonant sports magazine on newsstands and on digital. The publication has a circulation of 2.1 million and boasts a combined digital, print and mobile audience of more than 100 million, making it the largest cross-platform audience of any magazine brand. The magazine’s cover often serves as a sports and cultural touchstone, including the publication’s 10th annual Body Issue; its July cover of Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, whose emotional testimony during the abuse trial for USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar sparked a conversation about sexual abuse in sports; and its September cover of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the first gamer ever featured on the front cover. —K.S.

Hottest Women’s Health Magazine
Women’s Health

A newly acquired property from Rodale, the Hearst title reaches 11.6 million people in print. And under Liz Plosser’s leadership, the magazine has undergone a full redesign. It has also reshaped coverage to reflect a modern-day approach to lifestyle publishing, adding a section for mental health and renaming the “Food and Weight Loss” section “Food and Nutrition.” We’ll likely see the brand’s print and digital products align even more, after Plosser was recently named to lead content for each. Under her, Women’s Health’s iconic “Naked Truth” issue in September was up 7 percent in revenue. —S.J.

Hottest Men’s Health Magazine
Men’s Health

After acquiring the title at the beginning of this year from Rodale, Hearst immediately began retooling it with advertisers in mind—and has established 63 new sponsors. After Richard Dorment was named editor in chief in March, he worked to bring a fresh editorial team on board and broaden its range. His first fully realized magazine was the October issue, and the brand has lots of opportunity to expand under Dorment, who was recently tapped to oversee the brand’s website as well. His reimagined magazine includes new columns on topics ranging from how industry leaders get ready in the morning to personal accounts of men’s weight-loss journeys. —S.J.

Hottest Women’s Magazine
Better Homes and Gardens

With an overall readership of over 40 million that’s 80 percent female, there’s no denying that BHG is a powerhouse of a women’s magazine. It’s a title that continues to boast big sales at the newsstand as well as robust subscriber numbers, making it the largest monthly magazine in print. That print product continues to evolve, putting more and more people on the cover than ever (Hilary Duff and Ayesha Curry have both graced covers this year). The brand’s footprint, however, extends far beyond that, including an ongoing product collaboration with Walmart. —D.P.

Hottest Men’s Magazine
GQ, GQ Style

GQ’s style coverage just got a redo under Will Welch, who became creative director of GQ and will soon be taking on an even bigger role as editor in chief. Welch, also editor of GQ Style, replaces Jim Nelson, who has been at the helm for more than 15 years and, this year, oversaw features on high-profile figures ranging from Colin Kaepernick to Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott. The magazine’s journalism earned the industry’s highest honor: Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting for her piece “A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof,” published last September. As Condé Nast further invests in video, GQ is among those titles that will lead the way when it releases its OTT channel. —S.J.

Hottest Fashion Magazine
Vogue

Rumors of editor in chief Anna Wintour’s departure have persisted all year, though CEO Bob Sauerberg in July tried to squash them by tweeting she will remain “indefinitely.” Despite the distractions, Vogue remains at the top of its game, with a talked-about September cover featuring Beyoncé and a photo shoot with Stormy Daniels and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, to name a few. Beyond print, the magazine’s digital arm continues to grow as well, with 105 percent year over year growth in multiplatform unique visitors in the U.S., and massive video success on YouTube in the hours after the Met Gala, with 37 million views within 72 hours. ­—D.P.

Hottest Home Magazine
HGTV

HGTV’s success on-screen continues to translate to the page. It’s the second-best-selling monthly magazine on newsstands with a readership of over 10 million (including 8.2 million females). Advertisers like it, too: In the past year, HGTV has added brands like Lowe’s, Jeep and Pond’s to its stable. And it does all this without a direct digital counterpart—HGTV lives online on HGTV.com, but HGTV magazine does not have a website with regular updates. —D.P.

Hottest Lifestyle Magazine
The Magnolia Journal

Meredith’s Magnolia Journal, a magazine inspired by the lifestyle and home decor empire owned by Chip and Joanna Gaines (who serves as editor in chief and frequent cover star) of Fixer Upper fame, is an anomaly in the industry. Not only is it a new product (its debut issue dropped in 2017 and quickly sold out), but it’s growing, with revenue up 175 percent in 2018 versus last year. With a strong celebrity connection, The Magnolia Journal is a perfect example of the potential a media brand can have when aligned with a powerful influencer. —D.P.

Hottest Travel Magazine
Travel + Leisure

Travel + Leisure’s been around for nearly 50 years—and it’s this year that the monthly is seeing its highest-ever overall audience numbers across print and digital. Innovation has been particularly noticeable online, where the magazine has ramped up video, producing 1,000 videos in 2017, and launching new advertising integrations, including partnerships with Capital One and Visit Britain. The next year will likely see more change as editor in chief Nathan Lump steps down, but if current trends continue, it shouldn’t be much of a roadblock. —D.P.

Hottest Food Magazine
Bon Appétit

Bon Appétit’s minimalistic layout is how we often think about food imagery today. The layout, often using photographs to carry the story, such as in its guide to build a better sandwich, has paid off with young readers, and the magazine reaches 27 percent more readers ages 18 to 34 than it did a year ago. Other interesting topics, such as the special issue it debuted on foods we crave (featuring a bowl of ramen on the cover, with recipes therein), showed that the brand is on top of culinary trends. It’s paid off: this year subscriptions grew by 2.3 percent. Bon Appétit is set to expand, with a new OTT channel Condé Nast announced this year. —S.J.

Hottest Design/Photography
Popular Science

Popular Science has had a noteworthy year in design. Tasked with making complex stories engaging, accessible and visually appealing, the magazine’s art department managed to come up with innovative ways to intrigue its audience—from its “tiny issue” that focused on everything small, to visualizing the data behind how people die. Popular Science’s readers caught on, too; newsstand sales, according to Bonnier, are above forecasted figures. —S.J.

Hottest in News
Axios

The digital news powerhouse Axios’ tagline is “smart brevity,” so we’ll make it quick: The publication, which officially launched in 2017, has already broken big news stories, like Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate accord, and it has become a household name from Washington to Silicon Valley. Axios’ stable of 17 newsletters total more than 1 million readers and an average 45 percent open rate, giving brands a reliable audience of nationwide decision-makers. The company’s fast-expanding events business is smart brevity in action, getting attendees in and out the door in around an hour, and it recently inked a deal with HBO to develop a limited docuseries. —K.S.

Hottest in Sports
Bleacher Report

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.