The Atlantic's Adrienne LaFrance on why it's the best time to be a journalist

TheAtlantic.com has reached record audience growth, hitting an all-time high of 42.3 million visitors in May. LaFrance, 31, talks about how the historic brand is keeping relevant.

Name: Adrienne LaFrance
Title: Editor of TheAtlantic.com
Outlet: The Atlantic
Website: www.theatlantic.com 

What goals did you have when you first came into this role?
It’s an exciting job because we already do such great journalism, and we can be ambitious in both specific and broad ways.

I want to continue elevating the quality of what we do by considering entering new coverage areas, or just different ways we can have an impact in this chaotic, competitive news environment. And doing that all while being a strong steward of The Atlantic as an institution. We’re teaming the core Atlantic units while moving forward. 

What new possible areas of coverage will The Atlantic explore?
It’s more about enhancing our coverage areas. That may mean looking at how we could cover sports more. I don’t think you’ll see box scores in The Atlantic any time soon, but we’re a news organization focused on big ideas, including any realm of sports that generates big questions or drives forward big ideas about what we value as a society.

As a former tech reporter, I’m constantly thinking about ways we can enhance that coverage, because technology’s place in culture and corridors of power is different than it was couple of decades ago.

The biggest companies in the world are now tech companies. That shift in influence affects the way they and policymakers view their roles.

We’ve thrived in the internet age. But in order to keep thriving, we’re constantly interrogating what it means to be The Atlantic in a real-time news environment.

We’re all concerned with the big stories of the day, but our readers are smart and curious, just as our writers, editors, and reporters are.

So we want to continue cultivating a sense of wonder and doggedness, that Atlantian spirit that has kept us successful in the digital age so far. 

What emerging tech do you think will define journalism’s future?
There’s interesting experimentation going on in AR and VR. I’m more interested in AR because people don’t have to be completely immersed behind a set of goggles.

Another area is voice-activated devices and what that will mean for people’s consumption of news and journalism. There’s a ton of challenging questions around how you retain the tone and tenor of your publication if a robot voice is reading headlines. 

The Atlantic recently launched The Masthead. What is it?
It’s a membership program that provides premium content to subscribers, but it’s also a way to give people more of what they love and an effort on our behalf to stay in closer contact with our most engaged and loyal readers.

It’s the best time to be a journalist because it’s the best time to be a consumer of news. There are so many different tools for telling stories and for getting information to people quickly across all different channels. Sometimes people take for granted you still have to wait for a newspaper on your doorstep. 

The idea of the wealthiest and most powerful people, such as Laurene Powell Jobs, owning a respected publication such as The Atlantic is alarming. How do you respond?
It’s important for readers to think critically about where they’re getting news and information — especially in the age of real-time news and open platforms.

For example, Facebook is the most powerful publisher in the world, yet it has been reluctant to acknowledge it’s a media company. So it’s encouraging that individuals who’ve enjoyed great success in other industries choose to invest in the future of quality, independent journalism.

Consider what Pierre Omidyar has done for investigative reporting and accountability journalism in Hawaii with Honolulu Civil Beat, where I used to work, and how much Jeff Bezos has invested in top-notch journalism at The Washington Post.

Great journalism takes time and money to produce. I feel lucky the individuals who choose to invest in some of the greatest American journalism institutions — such as The Atlantic — understand that. 

What effect, if any, will this have on your coverage?
The Atlantic has a 160-year-old tradition of editorial independence. Our founding motto is, "of no party or clique."

That’s who we are, and it remains our guiding principle.

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