National Journal Group Inc. History

1501 M Street, NW
Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20005

Telephone: (202) 739-8400
Fax: (202) 833-8069

Private Company
Founded: 1969
Employees: 200
Sales: $30 million (2003 est.)
NAIC: 511120 Periodical Publishers

Company Perspectives:

National Journal Group Inc. is committed to providing publications and services that are nonpartisan, reliable and of the highest quality.

Key Dates:

National Journal is founded by Randy Smith and Anthony Stout.
John Fox Sullivan is named publisher.
Times Mirror Co. acquires the magazine.
David G. Bradley acquires National Journal Group.
Bradley buys the Atlantic Monthly.

Company History:

National Journal Group Inc. (NJ), based in Washington, D.C., is a nonpartisan publisher of daily, weekly, and monthly magazines and newsletters, as well as books and directories, devoted to politics and government, targeting a professional audience. Some of the company's material is also available online. NJ's flagship publication is National Journal, a weekly magazine that is best known for in-depth coverage on select topics. It is geared toward an exclusive audience, one willing to pay $1,700 for a yearly subscription. Published monthly, Government Executive caters to senior federal managers. In addition, a companion web site offers daily news updates. Daily publications include CongressDaily, a news service serving the U.S. Congress; the Hotline, offering inside information on politics and campaigns; American Health Line, which provides news regarding the business, policy, and politics of the healthcare industry; and Technology Daily, devoted to news about the policy and politics of information technology. NJ's book publishing efforts include The Almanac of American Politics, an encyclopedic look at politicians and politics. Directories include The Capital Source, a listing of some 6,500 important people and organizations in the nation's capital, and The Federal Technology Source, which provides the names of the most important people and organizations involved in technology at the federal level. Sister publications include Government Executive and the venerable Atlantic Monthly. NJ is owned by Washington, D.C., native and millionaire David G. Bradley.

Roots Dating to the Late 1960s

The National Journal magazine was founded in 1969 by 30-year-old New York attorney Anthony Carder Stout and New York investment banker Randy Smith, their goal to publish a magazine that covered the executive branch in much the same way Congressional Quarterly reported on Congress. The narrow focus did not work, however, and after spending a great deal of money, Smith walked away from the venture in 1975. At this point Stout hired John Fox Sullivan from Newsweek to serve as publisher, and National Journal now began to find a workable formula. Perhaps the most important step was to drop the original idea of focusing on the executive branch, expanding the magazine's purview to include all aspects of the federal government. Sullivan also determined that the best approach was to be nonpartisan and nonideological. As he explained to Columbia Journalism Review in a 2002 profile, the goal was not to be an encyclopedia: "We would pick and choose. We would be forward-looking--not what happened last week, but what might happen next year, the next ten years. We would write about issues in depth. But we would never say who should win this game. At most we would write about who was behind it, and what their strategies were." In 1977 National Journal adopted a new design for its cover, featuring a maroon background with white typeface, a look that would remain unchanged for the next 20 years.

Despite the many improvements Sullivan brought to the magazine, it failed to make the grade as a commercial property. In 1986 Stout decided to sell National Journal to Times Mirror Co. His Government Publishing Corp. owned 80 percent of National Journal, while the balance was owned by the Washington Post, which subsequently sold its interest to the new owner as well. Times Mirror was the media empire spawned by the Los Angeles Times. In the 1960s it branched into specialized publishing adding Year Book Medical Publishers and art book publisher Harry B. Abrams, as well as magazines Popular Science, Outdoor Life, Golf Magazine, and Ski Magazine. The company also added cable television operations, followed later by individual television stations. Other newspapers, such as the Dallas Times Herald, Long Island's Newsday, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post, and the Baltimore Sun were acquired in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, Times Mirror acquired the 100-year-old Sporting News and became involved in the medical information field. With revenues approaching $3 billion and profits exceeding $400 million by the mid-1980s, the $10 million purchase of obscure National Journal and other assets of Government Publishing Corp. caused little stir. The publication had a circulation of around 5,000, but although little known to the general public it did carry some clout with influential people in both the upper reaches of business and the national government. For Times-Mirror it was essentially a prestige buy, one that was not expected to have much of an impact on the bottom line. The magazine's management stayed on board and no significant changes were made. Stout remained the head of the magazine's board for another three years and Sullivan continued on as publisher.

During the decade that Times Mirror owned National Journal, other assets were added, resulting in the creation of National Journal Group to act as a holding company. Monthly Government Executive was purchased and brought into the fold. CongressDaily, a twice-daily fax newsletter service covering the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate was launched in 1991, but not without some controversy. NJ and Times-Mirror were sued by Alexandria, Virginia-based Bulletin Broadfaxing Network Inc., which alleged NJ had committed fraud and misappropriated trade secrets. Bulletin had been created a year earlier and launched a daily fax newsletter covering the White House and federal government called the White House Bulletin. According to Bulletin, in the fall of 1990 it was in the process of developing a second fax publication to cover Congress and Capital Hill when an NJ official made buyout overtures. During the subsequent negotiations, Bulletin allegedly discussed in detail its plans for Congressional Bulletin with Sullivan and other NJ officials. A deal to acquire Bulletin was tentatively arranged and only awaited approval from Times Mirror, but in the end Times Mirror decided that because of poor economic conditions it was putting a temporary halt to any further acquisitions. The company's newspaper segment was hit particularly hard, leading to a 40 percent drop in net income for the year. Unable to acquire Bulletin, NJ opted to launch its own congressional fax publication, which prompted Bulletin to sue. In the end there was little the small company could do to stop NJ's CongressDaily venture. Not only did Bulletin have to take on giant Times Mirror, the truth was that fax technology was hardly new and other Times Mirror publications were already producing fax publications.

Parent Company Struggling in the Early 1990s

Times Mirror continued to struggle in the early 1990s. It suffered a net loss of more than $66 million in 1992, the first loss in three decades. The company named a new chairman in 1995: Mark Willes, who had been vice-chairman at General Mills and a specialist in slashing costs. Over the next two years he cut the workforce, eliminated the evening edition of the Baltimore Sun, and closed down Long Island Newsday's attempt to establish a New York City edition. National Journal also was tightly controlled on the cost side, an approach that limited the level of editorial talent the magazine could afford to hire. As was the case when Times Mirror purchased National Journal the sale of National Journal Group in 1997 to David G. Bradley was not noticed by the general public.

Bradley was an unlikely media mogul. He was born in Washington, D.C., in 1953, and early on developed an interest in politics, in particular Republican politics. His lofty goal was to become a senator by the age of 30. He got a taste for the government from the highest level when at the age of 18 he was employed by Richard Nixon's presidential campaign of 1972, earning $60 a week working for the Committee to Re-Elect the President, which would gain notoriety from the Watergate scandal, leading to Nixon's resignation from office. Before that moment, however, Bradley would serve as an intern in the Nixon White House while earning a B.A. in political science at Swarthmore College. He later earned an M.B.A. from Harvard University as well as a law degree from Georgetown University. In 1979 Bradley launched a for-profit research firm, the Advisory Board, starting out with four Princess telephones and four card tables in his mother's apartment in the Watergate building. The company had an open-ended mission to conduct any kind of research for any company in any industry. His underlying goal was to build a business that he could then sell for a few million dollars, enough to launch his political career.

Bradley's plan did not pan out as hoped, however. His business model was too broad and unworkable and far from getting rich, after four years of hard work he was still only making $25,000 a year. Instead of selling the company quickly he devoted some 15 years of his life laboring long hours to finally make something of his business. He built up a slate of major corporate clients, becoming a wealthy man, but his political ambitions in the meantime had long been neglected.

According to Columbia Journalism Review, it was during a 13-hour flight to Vietnam that Bradley, now 40 years of age, found the time for some soul searching: "I looked older. I was living in D.C., which had no elected senators. I wasn't a Republican anymore. I was never going to be a senator." During the trip he also bought a magazine, which led to the inspiration that he could indulge his interest in politics through publishing. As he put it, "If I couldn't take the course, then at least I could audit it." Upon his return to the United States, Bradley contacted a magazine broker, Rick LePere, to inquire about purchasing the New Republic, his favorite magazine, but was disappointed to learn that Barbra Streisand had recently bid $25 million for the publication, a price higher than he was willing to pay. But Times Mirror soon decided to put NJ on the block, and Sullivan contacted LePere about finding a suitable buyer. LePere brought in Bradley and an $11 million purchase price was agreed to. At the time, NJ was generating $18 million in annual revenues.

To serve as editor-in-chief at National Journal, Bradley hired Michael Kelly, who had recently been fired as the editor of the New Republic. Initially Kelly had misgivings about even meeting with Bradley, about whom nobody in the publishing world knew anything. But after conversing for a dozen hours over the course of two days, Kelly agreed to become a columnist for the magazine and gradually assumed increasing responsibility with the direction of the publication as well as influencing Bradley in developing his new dream, building a profitable empire out of NJ.

Increasing Wealth for Bradley in the Late 1990s

In 1999 Bradley spun off a part of Advisory Board into a separate company called the Corporate Executive Board, which he then took public, realizing $142 million from the ensuing stock offering. Flush with cash, Bradley was able to continue pouring money into NJ. During the first 18 months of Bradley's ownership, the editorial budget of National Journal was bumped by 60 percent and the magazine began to attract brand name talent, such as legal analyst Stuart Taylor, former Washington Post press critic William Powers, and former Baltimore Sun White House reporter Carl Cannon.

Bradley also used some of his new wealth in 1999 to acquire the 140-year-old Atlantic Monthly for $10 million from real estate magnate and publisher Mortimer Zuckerman. With ties to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Atlantic was without doubt a prestigious magazine, but one which during the 20 years Zuckerman owned was little more than a break-even affair--losing $500,000 in a poor year and earning about $500,000 in a good year. Although Atlantic would not become part of NJ, its luster increased Bradley's profile and in turn the small media empire he was attempting to grow out of NJ. He also installed Kelly as the magazine's new editor, and as he had done with National Journal, he increased the editorial budget, doubling it so that Kelly was able to redesign the magazine and offer contracts to some 25 new writers.

By 2003, after several years of investing heavily, Bradley had produced strong results for NJ under his watch, as virtually everything--staff, circulation, revenues, and profits--had doubled in size. Michael Kelly was replaced as Atlantic's editor and died in 2003. One of the ideas he and Bradley had discussed since the start of their collaboration was to launch a new weekly authoritative magazine in the mold of the Economist, targeting an elite audience in much the same way National Journal did. But whether that would be the next major step taken by NJ remained to be seen.

Principal Operating Units: National Journal; Government Executive; Hotline; American Health Line; Technology Daily; CongressDaily.

Principal Competitors: The Economist Group Ltd.; Times Publishing Company; The Washington Post Company.

Further Reading:

  • Adams, Lorraine, Warren Strobel, and Kate O'Beirne, "The Magazine of Restoration Washington," Columbia Journalism Review, September/October 2002, p. 28.
  • Sherman, Scott, "Going Long, Going Deep," Columbia Journalism Review, November/December 2002, p. 48.
  • Whitford, David, "Adventures in Publishing," Fortune Small Business, September 2001, p. 34.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.67. St. James Press, 2005.