The Atlantic goes all out for its new cover story

Behind the scenes of the marketing campaign for Ta-Nehisi Coates' "The Case for Reparations"

On Wednesday night, The Atlantic posted the cover story for its June 2014 print issue: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations.” A vast, multimedia, multi-chapter story in the vein of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ recent investigation into the resegregation of America’s schools, “The Case for Reparations” examines the country’s legacy of slavery and discrimination and its continuing effect on African Americans.

And a person would have to be far outside the media bubble to be unaware of its appearance—The Atlantic has been promoting it vigorously for more than a week before it went live via its own video trailer. Coates has also been making the rounds, speaking to Bill Moyers, among others.

The Atlantic’s senior director of communications, Anna Bross, said the media rollout was carefully orchestrated.

“This cover is really a moment in history for The Atlantic,” she said. “We certainly worked far in advance to start talking to press outside our organization about this cover, and lining up interviews,” she said, “in order for Ta-Nehisi to talk about this reporting and this piece that he did.” Coates spent two years reporting the 16,000-word piece, and Bross said The Atlantic’s publicity team focused on programs where he would have the chance to have lengthy, in-depth conversations about his work. In addition to the interview with Moyers, Coates is also scheduled to make appearances on NPR’s All Things Considered and MSNBC, as well as multiple industry-focused panels.

Coates going out to discuss his article on various platforms means people have several opportunities to hear him talk about his work, and that he can reach audiences who might not normally come to The Atlantic. “It’s about making sure people read such an important piece of work, but it’s also about continuing the conversation,” Bross said. “Reparations” was on track Thursday set a new single-day traffic record on The Atlantic’s website, she added.

Although the magazine has been experimenting with trailers since this April, this is the first time The Atlantic has produced a trailer for one specific story. Creative Director Darhil Crooks said he introduced the trailers as a way of promoting the print issues. He and the design team produced colorful, cheerful trailers for the April and May 2014 issues, but he knew that approach wouldn’t work for the June magazine because of Coates’ article. Realizing that “Reparations” was going to be a major story, Crooks and the magazine’s editor in chief, James Bennet, decided to devote the entire June issue trailer to it instead. Crooks and associate art director Jackie Lay combined photos and audio from the two documentaries accompanying Coates’ piece to create the trailer. It had 20,000 views across YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr as well as many likes and shares on Facebook. “I think we’re going to probably experiment more with these trailers, especially given the response to this one,” Crooks said.

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Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu Tags: , , ,