Chaos at The Wire?

Without an editor in chief, The Atlantic's army of young aggregators is directionless

Back in November, things seemed promising at The Wire. In four years since launch the site’s easily digestible breaking news updates had become the The Atlantic’s second-highest traffic driver. The site editor in chief*, Gawker alum Gabriel Snyder, had just unveiled a website redesign and a name change from ‘The Atlantic Wire,’ to the sleek, standalone ‘The Wire,’ with its own url. Along with the new title, Atlantic Media Group announced intentions to devote resources to the young site—doubling the size of the editorial team to 30 and, for the first time, giving The Wire its own ad and marketing team, in an attempt to capitalize on sales for the vertical’s comparatively youthful audience.

But Snyder left in January, departing for the mobile news startup, and management added Andrew Golis, The Atlantic’s “entrepreneur in residence” as a general manager to the site, where he would “crystalize the site’s strategy” and grow the overall team while the company hired a new leading editor.

Almost five months after Snyder’s departure, The Wire’s editor in chief slot remains unfilled. And what had been a 15-employee site has lost four people—two full time staffers and two night editors. Departed staffers say that the uncertain future of the company contributed to their decision to leave. Only one of the departures has been replaced—by a contract weekend editor promoted to staff writer—leaving Snyder’s former army working even longer hours to keep up with unreduced content requirements. The Wire’s “designated ad team” now works within the Atlantic’s general advertising structure, just six months after the independent team was announced, though the company denies that the shift signifies any change in resource allocation. These changes have left confusion as to whether The Wire, once established as a contemporary take on the staid newswire, has lost favor within the company. Andrew Golis did not return requests for comment.

“When Gabriel left, it was a significant change to the culture of The Wire,” said a former staffer, who wished to remain anonymous. In the wake of Snyder’s departure, management reiterated to staff that the hiring push was on. But staffers didn’t see results. “The Atlantic folks did the best they could to say, ‘Hey, we have this vision and this is where we see things going.’ It is self evident that is not what’s happening.”

“If you didn’t have an editor for months on end you’d also be wondering—what’s the deal here,” said another.

Confusion within the organization was exacerbated last week when staffers were told that the editor in chief search had been halted and that departed staffers would not be replaced in the immediate future.

Asked if indeed the company was no longer seeking a top editor, communications staff said that the search process was never halted. “We have been interviewing for an editor in chief, and we are looking for the right person,” said Anna Bross, senior communications director for The Atlantic.

(After this piece was published, The Atlantic reiterated that the company is actively hiring replacements for all departing staffers, including for three positions—one of which is the editor in chief slot—posted online.)

At face value, The Wire seems one of The Atlantic’s most promising properties. With a staff of just under 15 “young aggregators,” as a New York Observer story once put it, The Wire churns out about 50 articles a day, drawing an average of 5.4 million readers per month this quarter. By comparison, with a staff of over 50, Quartz, an Atlantic Media Group site aimed at business executives, generates an average of 4.5 million unique views per month, according to metrics provided by the company. But Quartz has been praised as a innovator and mobile pioneer, using a large staff to create charts and other digital products. And it attracts a lucrative audience, 60 percent of which are “executive level,” according to company tracking. Quartz, which shares offices with The Wire, is also expanding, hiring about 25 new staffers and spawning a recently announced sister site, Glass, which will cover television and video. By contrast, company president M.Scott Havens called The Wire “a break-even product,” last November, saying that beefing up the staff might translate into a solidified ad structure.

In February, Golis reiterated plans to double The Wire’s staff when he hired Tim Carmody as a contributing editor and David Sims as a staff entertainment writer. “Adding Tim and David to our ranks is just the beginning as we work to double the staff this year,” he told Capital New York at the time. Only one of the two writers is still with The Wire and the staff still awaits the long-promised hiring push.

* The post has been corrected to reflect the correct age of The Wire and Gabriel Snyder’s role there. The Wire was four years old, not two and a half as written. Snyder was brought in the site’s editor in chief; he was not its founder. And one quote from a New York Observer story was originally misattributed to him when in fact it was the reporter’s words.

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Alexis Sobel Fitts is a senior writer at CJR. Follow her on Twitter at @fittsofalexis. Tags: , , ,