Year in Review
This guide was created for you, our readers, to give you a better sense of the impact you’ve helped make in 2018. We’d like to start by saying: Thank you. None of our journalism would be possible without your support, and for that, we’re grateful.
Operating a successful journalistic enterprise in the second decade of the 21st century is no easy thing—not simply because of certain global trends that undermine the aims and ideals of a free press, but also because the business of publishing is changing at breathtaking speed.
The Atlantic is, of course, a print magazine. But it is also a digital destination that attracts tens of millions of readers every month (a “real-time magazine,” as we call it); an events company that engages tens of thousands of attendees every year; a video studio; a podcasting outfit; a creative advertising shop; a digital-strategy consultancy; and, ultimately, a global network of hundreds of writers, editors, designers, coders, technologists, strategists, and other passionate contributors. All have a common purpose: Honor our legacy, and create the conditions for The Atlantic to succeed for another 161 years.
Below, you’ll see just a small part of the work we’ve done this year: a selection from thousands of articles written, hundreds of hours of videos and podcasts and events produced, and other creative projects pursued. We hope it inspires in you the same sense of pride we feel every day as we strive to fulfill our mission.
Stories Worth Revisiting
The Plot Against America
Franklin Foer’s March cover on Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was one such story. Not only did Foer chronicle the rise and fall of one of today’s most significant political figures, but he also told a broader tale about the moral decline of Washington and the corruption of American politics writ large. Foer showed, in exhaustive detail, the ways Manafort helped create the swamp that Trump later promised to drain. The lobbying firm that Manafort co-founded in 1980—the first to also house political-campaign consultants—obliterated traditional concerns about avoiding conflicts of interest in governmental affairs. One wing of the firm ran campaigns, while the other lobbied the politicians their colleagues helped elect. With this strategy, “the effectiveness and influence of lobbying grew in tandem,” Foer writes.
Foer illustrates how Manafort and his firm opened the floodgates to the foreign money and influence that poured into Washington. His client base included brutal dictators from all corners of the world, whose image he polished just enough to gain them approval from American political elites. Foer asserts that Manafort helped persuade politicians to look past—and ultimately accept—abuses of power, weakening the capital’s ethical immune system from the inside. While Manafort’s role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the extent of his relationships with the Russians, are as yet unknown, Foer’s story is crucial to understanding how the forces that threaten to subvert American democracy grew strong.
The 9.9 Percent Is the New Aristocracy
Another deeply reported cover story was Matthew Stewart’s “The Birth of a New Aristocracy,” published in the May issue. Stewart challenges the popular myth that America is a pure meritocracy and shows instead that social mobility falls when income inequality rises, as has been the trend for decades. But rather than casting blame on the often villainized 1 percent, Stewart points the finger at a somewhat larger group, one to which he belongs: the 9.9 percent. Its members are not your typical “wealthy elites”; they are, rather, the college professors, doctors, lawyers, and managers next door. He argues that this group has been responsible, in a number of ways, for the widening class divide—and the loss of opportunity for lower-income Americans to find their way into the upper echelons of society.
Stewart’s piece positions the 9.9 percent as a new aristocracy, one that is passing on its privilege to future generations and throwing up roadblocks behind them. The 9.9 percent live in safe neighborhoods, attend good schools, receive high-quality health care, and belong to social circles that offer opportunities to them and their children. While life seems ideal for these aristocrats—most of whom don’t consider themselves aristocrats at all—the ground is shifting beneath them. Inequality has led to resentment throughout the country. That resentment, in turn, has ushered in political division and instability, most notably in the form of Donald Trump. “The raging polarization of American political life is not the consequence of … a lack of mutual understanding,” Stewart writes. “It is just the loud aftermath of escalating inequality.”
What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland
One of The Atlantic’s most-read stories of 2018 was written not by a journalist but by a radiologist. Heather Sher, who has worked in one of America’s busiest trauma centers for more than a decade and has diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries, thought she knew everything she needed to know about gunshot wounds. But she was horrified by what she saw when treating victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. A week after the shooting, The Atlantic published her article describing, in visceral detail, the damage bullets from an AR-15 inflicted on the bodies of innocent teenagers. Sher explains that a typical handgun bullet cuts through a human organ in a straight line, leaving entry and exit wounds roughly the size of the bullet. But an AR-15 bullet, which travels almost three times as fast, is different. It “passes through the body like a cigarette boat traveling at maximum speed through a tiny canal,” she writes. “The high-velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path … Exit wounds can be the size of an orange.” A shooter armed with an AR-15 does not have to be particularly accurate in order to kill, and a victim does not have to be exceptionally unlucky in order to be killed.
Sher’s experiences treating many of those victims reinforced her belief that AR-15-style weapons should be banned from civilian use—an argument she forcefully puts forth in her article. She offers concrete recommendations for enacting gun control: Repeal the Dickey Amendment, which bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using funds to study gun violence as a public-health issue. Reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which prohibited the manufacture of semiautomatic rifles for civilian use. And change the conversation that consumes Capitol Hill after a massacre such as Parkland—from one about mental health to one about the AR-15, the common denominator in many mass shootings.
More Great 2018 Stories
"The Last Temptation,"
by Michael Gerson
"America's Invisible Pot Addicts,"
by Annie Lowrey
"The Cruelty Is the Point,"
by Adam Serwer
"How the Enlightenment Ends,"
by Henry Kissinger
"Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test,"
by Jessica McCrory Calarco
"Is There Something Neurologically Wrong With Donald Trump?,"
by James Hamblin
"The Nastiest Feud in Science,"
by Bianca Bosker
"The Belief of Our Inferiority Persists,"
by Jesmyn Ward
"Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture,"
by Yascha Mounk
"Was There a Civilization on Earth Before Humans?,"
by Adam Frank
America and the World in Crisis
Not long ago, our democratic future seemed settled. History had ended; liberalism had won. Today, the picture looks far less certain. Autocracy is on the rise across the world, including in that once unlikeliest of countries: America. And so we must ask: Is democracy dying? That is the question The Atlantic explored in its October issue, which featured contributions from Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, historians Anne Applebaum and Yuval Noah Harari, National Constitution Center President Jeffrey Rosen, and other leading journalists and thinkers.
“This issue represents the latest in a series of attempts by The Atlantic to understand the trajectory of democracy and the American idea,” Jeffrey Goldberg writes in his editor’s note. “Our hope is that you find this a useful guide to a perilous moment.”
KING: A Special Issue
This year marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. In honor of his life and legacy, The Atlantic published a special issue—simply titled KING—in March. As editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in his introduction to the issue, “When Vann R. Newkirk, one of our staff writers, and Adrienne Green, the magazine’s managing editor, proposed that we publish a special edition … I was intrigued, but also concerned that such an issue be an exploration of our fraught moment, and not merely a devotional artifact.” What King identified as the “three major evils” of society—racism, poverty, and militarism—served as a framework for the issue, which sought to illustrate not only the broad scope of the issues he took on, but also how they remain largely unresolved, and just as urgent, today.
The magazine featured rarely published works from King himself, including a 1968 speech that encouraged citizens of Eutaw, Alabama, to join the Poor People’s March on Washington, which took place one month after his assassination. Also featured was King’s historic “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” which was published in The Atlantic in 1963 and became a landmark document of the civil-rights movement. Written in longhand while King was imprisoned for protesting segregation, the letter criticized “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
Alongside King’s original writings were new pieces by contributors who commented on the unsteady progress toward his dream of equality. In one essay, National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward reflects on growing up poor and hungry in Mississippi, a state that continues to gut social programs that help many lower-income people of color—and, in doing so, undermines King’s vision of a more equal society, which included a guaranteed income for the poor.
Elsewhere in the issue, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Matthew Desmond considers whether the lack of riots in American cities today, even as many of the social evils that incited urban uprisings in the 1960s remain, is a sign of growing suppression rather than increased civility. Responding to a 1967 riot in Detroit, King observed that unemployment, along with racial discrimination, “could be expected to induce rage and rebellion.” Rage still exists, Desmond argues, but rebellion has been quelled by mass incarceration and white flight from the neighborhoods where fires once burned.
The collection of essays, speeches, interviews, poetry, and photography explored the tumultuous times in which King lived, his evolution from pacifist pastor to labor-rights advocate to antiwar activist, and the state of his vision today. “What we want to do is challenge people,” Newkirk said in an interview with The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. “We want people to read every single article in this issue and come away thinking about something new, something they never even fathomed about Dr. King.”
- Lauren K. Alleyne
- Rev. William J. Barber II
- Matthew Desmond
- Eve L. Ewing
- LaToya Ruby Frazier
- Jeffrey Goldberg
- Adrienne Green
- Bernice A. King
- Eli Lee
- John Legend
- John Lewis
- Benjamin Mays
- Vann R. Newkirk II
- Bree Newsome
- Patrick Parr
- A. Philip Randolph
- Bayard Rustin
- Clint Smith
- Jeanne Theoharis
- Kara Walker
- Jesmyn Ward
- Jesse Williams
KING in the Classroom
The Atlantic distributed more than 30,000 copies of the KING issue to middle and high schools across the country, and many students used it as inspiration to pursue creative projects. At Sacramento High School, one class redacted words from features in the magazine to create short poems, in a student-initiated assignment called “Black-Out Poetry.” At Kipp Denver Collegiate School, students wrote down their own dreams for the future after reading Lauren K. Alleyne’s poem “Martin Luther King Jr. Mourns Trayvon Martin,” with its refrain, “I dreamed …” Classes at Georgia’s Fugees Academy wrote personal reactions to stories in the issue; one student recalled being ordered to remove her hijab, and described her resulting shock, confusion, and, ultimately, defiance. Teachers reported how the issue connected students to King’s legacy more deeply and centered his work in the reality of their own lives.
In March, The Atlantic launched an ambitious new section focused on families. In our magazine, on our website, in video, and in a weekly email newsletter, our journalists examine diverse and complicated issues related to families with the same expansiveness, depth, and rigor that defines all of The Atlantic’s writing and reporting.
The new Family section has covered some of the most crucial challenges America faces, from the perspective of the parents and kids who experience them. Writers explored the task of raising children in a time of rapid cultural, ecological, and technological change—from Sarah Rich on raising her boy to embody a gentle, loving version of masculinity, to Michelle Nijhuis on how she talks to her daughter about climate change, to David French on how America soured on his multiracial family, to Jemar Tisby on the burden that black parents bear of speaking to their kids about race.
The Atlantic’s coverage of families also goes beyond parenting and extends to all manner of relationships. Allie Volpe examined what makes some roommate relationships succeed and others fail. Andrew Cherlin looked at how marriage is now viewed by a large proportion of young American couples as the last step in adulthood rather than the first. And Lori Gottlieb, the psychotherapist behind our weekly “Dear Therapist” column, responded to questions such as “Is it possible to apologize for a sexual assault?” and “Am I compromising too much for my partner?” with profound wisdom and compassion.
The bylines that appear in The Atlantic’s archives are a who’s who of great literary minds: Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath. Indeed, The Atlantic’s founding credo—signed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville, among others—declared that an expansive approach to literature would be one of the publication’s first aims.
In September, The Atlantic advanced this tradition by launching a Books hub on the website. Along with reviews of the latest titles, the section features reinterpretations of cult classics, such as an article by Yosef Lindell on why the fantasy novel The Last Unicorn continues to captivate readers; interviews with authors, as in our “By Heart” series, in which they share their all-time favorite passages in literature; and essays about larger literary trends, including Sophie Gilbert’s look at the rise of dystopian novels written by, and concerned with, women.
The Atlantic’s books coverage isn’t limited by genre. Adrienne LaFrance described how contemporary children’s horror stories, such as the ones popularized by R. L. Stine, are a throwback to the Victorian era, when fairy tales provided a fantastical escape from utilitarian life. Naz Deravian recounted how she wrote an Iranian cookbook after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, finding comfort in the “logic and truth” of perfectly measured recipes during a time of increasing anxiety for immigrants. Megan Garber asserted the urgency of poetry—which now takes the forms of tweets, Instagram posts, and Kanye West lyrics—and noted the ways in which poems, contrary to claims that they’re “going extinct,” are invincible, and everywhere.
The well-reasoned argument is deeply embedded in The Atlantic’s DNA. Think of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s call for the emancipation of slaves; Helen Keller’s wry, trenchant case for why men should do more housework; or James Fallows’s warning that invading Iraq would lead to complications and ramifications that would take at least a decade to resolve—published six months before the start of the Iraq War.
Enter The Atlantic’s newest editorial initiative, Ideas, which seeks to build on this rich legacy. The section officially launched online in September, featuring pieces by contributors such as Chuck Todd, the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, who urged his fellow journalists to break with tradition and fight back against the anti-press movement, which started decades before Donald Trump’s outcries against “fake news.” Emily Yoffe argued that reforms to Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, are necessary to better protect young women and men on college campuses. Annie Lowrey questioned the popular belief that marijuana is benign and nonaddictive, citing the striking rise in near-constant cannabis use. John McWhorter, a linguistics professor, defended the singular use of the pronoun they for gender-nonconforming individuals, even though it marks “the most challenging change in language I have dealt with in my lifetime.”
The essays published in Ideas continue to challenge readers’ preconceptions. No one will agree with all of them—in fact, we hope readers will find themselves disagreeing with the things they read in Ideas with some regularity, just as our authors disagree with one another. But we also hope that readers will find their arguments rigorous, their evidence solid, their spirit generous, and their writing lively. There are ever fewer spaces in which readers can encounter a wide array of voices, engaged in honest and earnest conversation. Ideas is one of them.
The Atlantic Crossword
The Atlantic brought back its beloved crossword by popular demand in October. The original Atlantic Puzzler, created by the word-wrangling duo of Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, appeared for the first time in the September 1977 issue and finished its print run in 2006. The outcry from puzzle solvers was loud and persistent—and inspired a relaunch of the crossword, 12 years later, in a slightly different format: a mini puzzle that gets bigger and more challenging every weekday.
The crossword’s new creator, Caleb Madison, explains that his puzzles “take a little bit of creative brain work, rather than just knowing facts.” Combining historical trivia with modern pop-culture references and intriguing terminology, the crossword not only informs and educates, but also entertains.
Under the guidance of executive producer Katherine Wells, who joined in 2018 from Gimlet Media (and had previously been a video producer here), The Atlantic expanded its podcast universe to include Crazy/Genius—an exploration of the biggest questions at the intersection of technology and culture.
Over two seasons, the host, Derek Thompson, wrestled with such predicaments as:
From festivals in Washington, D.C., and Aspen, Colorado, to summits on sustainability in Los Angeles and urban innovation in Detroit, The Atlantic’s events convened journalists, policy makers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and community leaders to examine, in person, some of today’s most consequential issues. “There’s something incredibly powerful, in this cacophonous age, about gathering people in a room and grappling with these challenges together,” says Margaret Low, the president of AtlanticLIVE. Across more than 100 events in 25 cities this year alone, AtlanticLIVE continued The Atlantic’s tradition of exploring a diversity of perspectives through the free exchange of ideas.
The Atlantic Festival
October 2–4, Washington, D.C.
The Atlantic Festival, formerly known as Washington Ideas and now in its 10th year, hosted 117 speakers and 3,000 attendees over three days and nine venues in D.C. Not far from the Capitol Hill chamber that had just seen the tumultuous testimonies of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the festival became a forum for contending with a deeply divided nation. The lineup featured members of the Senate Judiciary Committee—Chris Coons, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, and Kamala Harris—along with national figures including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry; Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president; and Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman.
May 1, Washington, D.C.
In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and teachers’ strikes in several states, The Atlantic’s fourth annual Education Summit assembled students, teachers, school administrators, and education experts from across the country to consider the future of the American school system—and how to make classrooms safer, more inclusive, and more beneficial to all students.
PULSE Summit on Health Care
April 9, Boston
In Boston, one of the U.S.’s major hubs of medicine and biotech, The Atlantic asked why a country that spends far more on health care than its developed-world counterparts does not have better health outcomes. The second annual PULSE Summit brought together experts including doctors, patient advocates, and policy makers to examine ways to fix a health-care system that often leads Americans to fear the cost of care more than illness itself.
New Faces at The Atlantic
Ellen Cushing, senior technology editor, is leading The Atlantic’s new San Francisco bureau. She and her growing crew of journalists are helping to expand The Atlantic’s technology reporting at a time when the behemoths of Silicon Valley are wielding unprecedented and increasing influence over people’s lives. Their stories will not only cover the latest technological developments and how they’re changing the way we live, but also explore, and expose, the inner workings of the industry. Cushing is no stranger to investigative journalism; before joining The Atlantic, she oversaw BuzzFeed News’s reporting on sexual assault and harassment. Silicon Valley is “a world-historic locus of power,” she says. “It’s critical that we approach it with no less tenacity than we would any other little-regulated group that makes decisions that affect millions of people.”
Vernon Loeb joined The Atlantic as politics editor after spending decades working for some of America’s most influential newspapers. As a foreign correspondent for The Philadelphia Inquirer, he covered the Tiananmen Square protests, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, and the Gulf War. He reported on the CIA and the Pentagon for The Washington Post before heading an investigative team at the Los Angeles Times. In 2014, he became managing editor of the Houston Chronicle, which was honored as a 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist for its coverage of Hurricane Harvey. At The Atlantic, Loeb oversees a team of writers who give readers a deep understanding of both breaking news and larger political trends. “We go our own way to differentiate ourselves from the pack,” he says. “Part of separating ourselves from the pack is being willing to report much more deeply and write much more daringly.”
Prashant Rao, global editor, is at the helm of The Atlantic’s expansion in Europe, managing a team of journalists based in London and Paris, as well as New York and Washington, D.C. Rao joins The Atlantic from The New York Times, where he wrote and edited stories about economics and finance as deputy Europe business editor. Before joining The Times, he served as Baghdad bureau chief for the international news agency Agence France-Presse, covering several tumultuous elections and the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State. He and his team at The Atlantic strive to “tell stories that offer context and analysis about what’s happening in the world,” he says. “That means looking not only at what governments do, but also at how cultures are changing—or being changed.” As for his ambitions in 2019, Rao wants to delve into the forces reshaping the world as we know it, including populism, migration, and the fraying of the postwar order.
Lauren N. Williams
Lauren N. Williams began her role as a senior editor on The Atlantic’s culture desk this summer. Most recently, Williams was a 2018 fellow at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, studying how black women have influenced cultural trends in the United States. She was previously at Essence, where she worked as both a news and features editor, assigning stories on politics, education, gun violence, the justice system, and more. At The Atlantic, Williams works with a team of writers who examine the intricacies of American culture in nuanced and unexpected ways. Looking ahead to next year, Williams wants to focus on the intersection of hip-hop and the #MeToo movement—“The genre hasn’t yet had its reckoning,” she says—as well as the screenwriters, showrunners, producers, and other players who are shaping the entertainment industry from behind the scenes.
Christi Parsons joined The Atlantic this spring as director of the Talent Lab, which supports the newsroom both in recruiting talented journalists and in nurturing their growth and development. Along with deputy director Bhumi Tharoor and researcher Abdallah Fayyad, Parsons plays a key role in helping The Atlantic achieve one of its paramount goals: ensuring that the masthead is representative of America in all its diversity. Parsons is a longtime political journalist, having served as a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. At the Tribune, she tracked Barack Obama’s ascent from the Illinois statehouse to the U.S. Senate to, ultimately, the executive office. In 2015, she served as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. Now she and her team in the Talent Lab extensively research and identify fellow journalists who not only fit The Atlantic’s style of reporting and writing but also introduce new and surprising perspectives to the editorial department.