A Goodbye

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This has been my last week at The Atlantic. The magazine has been my home for seven years, under four editors, permanent and interim: The late Michael Kelly; Cullen Murphy, Scott Stossel and now James Bennet. When I joined up, in the fall of 2002, it was as a researcher in the D.C. office, but the magazine as a whole was still based in Boston, in a gorgeous North End building - a former tannery, I think, with creaking floors and exposed brick, pools of shadow and a huge elevator shaft. I had coffee there with Kelly in the fall of 2002 - the only time I really talked to him; it was eight months before his death in Iraq - and spent the following summer there as well, on loan from D.C. But the rest of my time at this job - as a researcher, a writer, an editor, and yes, a blogger - been spent in Washington, in the Watergate, where the magazine as a whole moved in late 2005.

Seven years is a long time. I've spent more years at the Atlantic than at any school I've ever attended, and I probably know Foggy Bottom, at this point, as well as I've known any neighborhood I've lived in. And of course the magazine has changed a lot over that period, in a sense - different editors have made different choices, features have dropped in and dropped out, writers have come and gone, it's been redesigned and then redesigned again.

But in another sense, it's barely changed at all. James Bennet and everyone around him are trying to do the same thing that Michael Kelly tried to do, and William Whitworth before him, and so on all the way back to the bearded eminences of 1850s: Produce a magazine about ideas that isn't ideological; a magazine about politics that isn't partisan; a magazine about culture that isn't boosterish or snobbish; and a magazine that reports the hell out of the biggest stories in the world.

I won't pretend that they - that we - have always succeeded at this. Like any human enterprise, the Atlantic is only sometimes all that it could be. The fact that conservatives have complained to me about the magazine's liberal bias, for instance, and liberals about its rightward tilt, doesn't mean that we've achieved a perfectly Broderesque balance between the factions; sometimes it just means we're promiscuous in our unfairness. And if you've picked up an issue last month or last year and found something that made you groan or roll your eyes, there's a perfectly good chance you were right to do so - that in that instance, at least, we aimed high but ended up blowing it.

But sometimes we do succeed. (I'd even suggest that often, we do succeed - but then of course I'm biased.) And without getting too goo-goo-ish about our polarized media, or too maudlin about the decline of long-form journalism, I'll just say that I think the continued pursuit of the Atlantic's particular kind of success is a tremendously good thing, one that's worth your support, and worth all the effort that goes into it - the long and stressful hours, the wrangling with editors over the perfect mix of stories and with writers over the perfect turn of phrase, the unsung labors of the fact checkers and copy editors, and the patience of our publisher with a business model that no investor looking for a quick profit would ever get involved in.

If there's one thing I regret about this blog, over the two years that I've kept it, it's that I've done too little to highlight that work - the work we do every month in the print magazine, that is - and integrate it into this particular internet emanation of the Atlantic. At its best, the bloggers' row we've set up provides a daily version - albeit perhaps more scattershot and inconsistent, and certainly less rigorously fact-checked - of the kind of idea-driven writing and reporting that we aim for in the magazine. But I don't think we've always made the connection between the two as seamless as it should be. It's easy, when you're blogging, to fall into a habit of engaging exclusively with other blogs; it's harder to step back and try to unpack or engage the arguments and issues raised in longer-form journalism. And there I wish I'd done more - if for no other reason than to make sure that you, my faithful readers, were dragged deeper into what it is I really do.

Over these last two years, and even at the height of the election-season madness, this blog was always the second, lesser half of my job; the magazine itself, the editing and organizing and occasionally the writing of it, always came first. As it always should - no matter who the editors and writers are, what controversies or wars are raging, or how bleak the journalistic landscape looks. I could not be more thankful for the chance to be a part of the Atlantic's story, or prouder of the work we've done. And I hope that there will always - always - be someone to continue it.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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