Web Sitings: Behind the Fall of a Firewall
Founded by several writers and thinkers whose collective brilliance arguably rivals most any other group in American history, The Atlantic has always been a favorite of thought-leaders and intellectuals. But even the combined brainpower of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes likely would have struggled with today’s generation of magazines’ most daunting challenges—among them, the ability to transcend print in tapping the limitless possibilities of the digital world.
When Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes and a few of their contemporaries launched The Atlantic in Boston in 1857, their intent was to aggregate content centered around politics, public policy, the economy and culture, and distribute it to the masses by way of the printing press. The staff of today’s Atlantic finds itself charged with the very same goal, albeit with new innovations at their disposal. So when it became clear about a year ago, according to The Atlantic Editor James Bennet, that TheAtlantic.com presented an outlet for both real-time analysis on modern-day issues and retrospective commentary on the thousands of stories run in the 150-year-old magazine’s pages in the past, the editor’s next move was to tear down the paid firewall that had shrouded its content from public view for years.
A note from the magazine’s staff posted on the site on Jan. 22, 2008, explained this decision. “Beginning today, TheAtlantic.com is dropping its subscriber registration requirement and making the site free to all visitors,” it read. “… We’re pleased to bring The Atlantic before a broader online audience. We hope that the quality of its writing, the trenchancy of its insights, and the depth and thoughtfulness of its reporting will inspire many of our online readers to join The Atlantic family by becoming print subscribers.”
But this decision to remove the firewall didn’t happen overnight.
“About a year ago, we started thinking about TheAtlantic.com a little differently. Not just as a site to promote the magazine content and related Web content, but a source for premium, up-to-the-minute news analysis and opinion in itself,” says Bennet, who joined the publication as editor in 2006. So he constructed a roundtable of bloggers who frequently debate each other and the site’s community of users on any and all topics covered by The Atlantic. It is a formula, he contends, that has not been done well elsewhere.