In 1979 while only 26 years old, Bradley founded the Research Council of Washington, later renamed the Advisory Board Company. The purpose of the company, at least initially, was to do research on any question for any industry. In 1986 the company began doing special research for the health care industry, which eventually became the main focus of the Advisory Board Company.
In 1983, his company had begun advising other firms in the financial services industry. In 1997, this was completely spun off as the separate Corporate Executive Board. Both companies are now publicly traded on the NASDAQ. Bradley reportedly earned over $300 million from their sale.
In other words, he sold information.
Bradley now owns the Atlantic Media Company. He is running what he calls "salons."
Atlantic spokesperson Zachary Hooper told Talking Points Memo on Monday that "the corporate sponsor comes to us and says, 'We're interested in having a discussion on a certain topic.'" And some corporate sponsors, TPM reported, have included AstraZeneca ("Healthcare Access and Education”); Microsoft (“Global Trade”), G.E. ("Energy Sustainability and the Future of Nuclear Power"); Allstate
("The Future of the American City"); and Citi ("The Challenge of Global Markets").
When asked by TPM, Hooper declined to comment on how much a corporation pays to sponsor an event, so it is unclear if the Atlantic asks anywhere in the $25,000 to $250,000 range described in the Post's flier that advertised for underwriting opportunities.
If anything, The Post was a late entrant to what a number of publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the Economist, in addition to Atlantic Media, have found to be a lucrative source of income. Bradley described that revenue as a legitimate justification for the salons at a time when "the economic foundation beneath journalism is falling away."
"The imperative," he said, "is to rebuild journalism on different financial pillars. One of them, and not inconsequential to us, is events - of all types."
Atlantic has been particularly aggressive in staging events, the most famous of which, the Aspen Ideas Festival, was underway last week when the controversy over the Post's proposed dinners first began.
Some of the dinners he has hosted are, Bradley said, "for my own interest and my own account," a reference to a series of off-the-record evenings with newsmakers he has held for a select group of prominent Washington reporters. Those are different, he said, from the dinners that have corporate sponsors, which usually have about 30 participants, including members of Congress and administration officials, and follow a prescribed format.
The Atlantic is openly selling ideas, but also selling information to those it deems "newsmakers." It's an interesting concept; instead of newspapers and magazines gathering information and selling it to the public, they gather information and sell it to whoever buys access.
Bradley bought a magazine that was losing millions every year. His ad revenues have gone down 20% since then. The internet and recession have killed many newspapers and magazine. Bradley evidently has decided that the future of journalism--the gaining of knowledge and therefore power--is with those who could pay the most for it.