How Justin Smith remakes media companies — and why the Atlantic will be fine without him


In a media industry fraught with failure, almost everything touched by Justin Smith has turned to gold. That’s why news of his decision to leave Atlantic Media for Bloomberg led media pundits to heap praise on Smith and, more quietly, to wonder what will happen to the Atlantic without him.

Smith is best known for helping the 150-year-old publication embrace digital media and, in doing so, avoid a Newsweek-like descent into insolvency and irrelevance. While Smith’s reputation as a digital evangelist is well-deserved, it risks overshadowing his more fundamental talent: an ability to redefine what a media company is and how it should be run.

In early June, I had lunch with Smith and met Atlantic executives in their airy offices in the hulking Watergate building overlooking the Potomac. The visit revealed how Smith has rebuilt the company in such a way that it doesn’t depend on any one…

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