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Education-Focused Emerson Collective to Acquire Majority Stake in The Atlantic

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A philanthropic organization that counts education as one of its major areas of focus is acquiring a majority stake in a venerable magazine that has been lauded for, among other things, its coverage of education in recent years.

The Emerson Collective, a very next-era charitable and investment endeavor founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of the late Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, will acquire The Atlantic magazine, founded before the Civil War began, as well as the Atlantic's online news operation.

"What a privilege it is to partner with David Bradley and become a steward of The Atlantic, one of the country's most important and enduring journalistic institutions," Powell Jobs said in a news release on July 28.

Bradley has owned The Atlantic since 1999, and his Washington-based Atlantic Media includes the print magazine, websites, a conference business, and other ventures. The magazine has a very active education channel that includes contributions from Atlantic staff writers such as Conor Friedersdorf, Chalkbeat writers such as Matt Barnum, and freelance essayists.

"Against the odds, The Atlantic is prospering," Bradley said in a staff memo announcing the new partnership. "While I will stay at the helm some years, the most consequential decision of my career now is behind me: who next will take stewardship of this 160-year-old national treasure?  To me, the answer, in the form of Laurene, feels incomparably right."

Bradley, 64, will keep a minority stake and remain at the helm of the magazine for the next three to five years, after which the Emerson Collective may acquire it outright. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Atlantic Media now gets some 80 percent of its revenue from digital ads, events, and other non-print sources. (Bradley is keeping, for now, other properties he owns that include National Journal Group and a digital media organization called Quartz.)

The Emerson Collective, based in Palo Alto, Calif., both invests in for-profit ventures and gives to non-profit entities. Besides education, its key areas of focus are immigration, social justice, and the environment. 

The collective counts Russlyn H. Ali, the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights chief under President Obama, as its managing director for education, and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as a managing partner.

Emerson Collective's major education projects include College Track, which predates the collective and aims to help students from underprivileged areas get on track for higher education; and the XQ Super School Project, an ambitious effort the re-invent the American high school. 

The collective has also invested in digital journalism outlets such as Axios, founded by two veterans of Politico; and Anonymous Content, a production company behind the movie "Spotlight." The organization has also supported nonprofit journalism outlets such as ProPublica and the Marshall Project.

"The Atlantic was co-founded 160 years ago by a group of abolitionists including Ralph Waldo Emerson, who is a primary inspiration for our own work at Emerson Collective," Powell Jobs said in her statement. "Emerson and his partners, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, created a magazine whose mission was to bring about equality for all people; to illuminate and defend the American idea; to celebrate American culture and literature; and to cover our marvelous, and sometimes messy, democratic experiment."

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