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The Atlantic lays off 68, citing 'a bracing decline in advertising'

[NEW YORK] The Atlantic appeared to have the right ingredients for a successful 21st-century publication: strong journalism, a thriving digital operation and the enthusiastic backing of a multibillionaire, Laurene Powell Jobs.

But on Thursday the 163-year-old publication announced that it would lay off 68 employees, or 17 per cent of its staff, evidence that even the most robust media businesses are vulnerable to the crisis that has ravaged news organisations nationwide.

The announcement followed a burst of layoffs in the news media business last week: 155 jobs lost at Vice, 100 at Condé Nast, 90 at The Economist, 80 at Quartz. Those cuts came in the wake of a free fall set off by the coronavirus pandemic, which has cut deeply into advertising revenue.

The layoffs at The Atlantic affected 22 staff members in the editorial department, 11 of whom worked in its now-shuttered video arm. The rest of the people laid off were mainly part of the live-events and marketing divisions. The Atlantic is also cutting executive pay and freezing salaries.

The layoffs resulted from "the overnight and near-complete undoing of in-person events and, for now, a bracing decline in advertising", David Bradley, the chairman of Atlantic Media, wrote in a memo to the staff.

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But Mr Bradley acknowledged that The Atlantic might have eventually eliminated some of these roles even without the virus.

The laid-off workers will receive a minimum of 16 weeks' salary, plus two additional weeks of pay for each year of employment beyond the first year, according to the memo.

In September, the publication started charging for its expanded website. Since adding the pay wall, it has sold 160,000 subscriptions and now has 500,000 print and digital subscriptions, said a spokesperson, Anna Bross.

The Atlantic has devoted significant resources to covering the pandemic. Its Covid Tracking Project has served as a reliable counter of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States. Its standout reports and essays have included Yascha Mounk's "Cancel Everything" and Ed Yong's "How the Pandemic Will End". It started a podcast related to the crisis.

The coverage paid off: Since March, The Atlantic has added 90,000 subscribers, Mr Bradley said, part of its overall 160,000 new subscribers. But the emphasis on subscriptions over advertising revenue was not enough to prevent the job cuts.

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