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Atlantic Publisher Jay Lauf '86 to students: 'Don't be afraid to show you care'

Prior to the talk, Lauf (center) had dinner with a group of students.
Prior to the talk, Lauf (center) had dinner with a group of students.

As an undergraduate at Connecticut College, Jay Lauf '86 had the lofty goal of following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway.

"I always had the writing bug," he told students at a "Great Beginnings: Conversations with Alumni" talk last month.

And while his path has deviated slightly from Hemingway's, he has followed his dream all the way to the corner office of The Atlantic.

See video highlights from the talk.

As publisher and vice president of the 153-year-old magazine (founded by such literary greats as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harriet Beecher Stowe), Lauf is responsible for running the business operation and ensuring the magazine remains commercially viable - a difficult task for a print publication in an increasingly digital world. Since he began working for the magazine in 2008, one of Lauf's primary goals has been to turn the magazine into what he calls a "digital first company." Embracing digital media, Lauf said, is vital when trying to grow circulation and keep an historic magazine fresh and relevant.

"Ninety percent of the material on our website is original and cannot be found in the magazine," Lauf told the students.

He went on to explain that the longer, in-depth research pieces published in The Atlantic's print edition are not well suited to the internet, where brevity is better. Under his leadership, The Atlantic has also incorporated the internet into its advertising structure, with 45 percent of ad sales this year coming from the internet. His approach is working. Lauf told students that the digital content and advertisement revenue give the magazine an edge over its competitors, which are primarily concerned with print advertising. And The Atlantic recently turned a profit for the first time in decades.

For the students in attendance at the event, part of a Centennial series of conversations with prominent alumni, Lauf provided valuable insight regarding interviews, the post-grad job search and the importance of networking (which, as Lauf explained in a Summer 2011 CC: Magazine article, is how he landed his current position). He also told students that he prefers to hire employees who are clearly passionate about what they do as well as intellectual, creative, articulate and self-motivated.

"Don't be afraid to show that you care," Lauf said. "Most liberal arts students go after what they are interested in, rather than what is going to make them lots of money. You will be a better employee and you will be happier if you follow your passion."

As for Lauf, he said he relishing the opportunity to help shape the future for such a historic and influential magazine. Even in the rapidly changing world of magazine publishing, Lauf he is confident that The Atlantic will thrive and stay true to its roots of being a "vehicle for the American ideals."

- By Laura Marenghi '12

October 10, 2011

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