More journalists and media commentators seem to be playing everyone’s favorite new game of Tearing Into Portfolio. This morning we mentioned Elizabeth Spiers’ piece on the second issue of the magazine—a brilliantly wicked, lengthy evisceration that recalls why we once wanted Elizabeth to edit a collection of nasty essays we proposed calling “The Poison Pen.” And Jon Friedman’s at it too, using his column at Market Beat to take aim at the magazine. And over happy hour drinks the other day, we heard lots of nattering negativity from the nabobs.
But as we pointed out this morning, it’s a bit early to pronounce the failure of an enterprise that hasn’t yet even settled into a regular publishing schedule. We’ve had two issues, published months apart. The Portfolio-ista’s haven’t yet flourished, perhaps, but it seems a bit early to expect them to have totally remade business journalism and fixed everything that’s been so wrong with it for so long. What’s worse, this is starting to look a bit like a pile on: everyone jumping the new kid on the block just because he comes from a rich family.
Gary Weiss, a veteran business reporter and one of the best guys doing investigative business journalism today, thinks the Portfolio bashing has gone too far, too fast.
Look, they’re probably right. The first issue underwhelmed me, and I’m not exactly running to the newsstand for the second one. But I am starting to wonder if the constant slamming on Portfolio isn’t going a bit overboard. After all, are the competitors all that much better?
There are only a dwindling number of periodicals left that engage in long-form narrative journalism. Even a flawed outlet for this vanishing species is better than nothing.
The magazine is only just beginning, for Pete’s sake. Portfolio may suck eggs in some respects, its office politics may be right out of the Kremlin circa 1938, but it is a new outlet in a contracting market. To answer my own question, it matters. Give the friggin’ magazine a chance. Lay off.
More after the jump.
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When the second issue of Portfolio, Condé Nast’s big-budget business mag, came in over the transom, our first thoughts were various kinds of disappointment. There were pictures of cars on the cover. Very little about subprime, commercial paper, Chinese monetary policy, quant funds or the other things we’ve been obsessing over lately. And if it wasn’t participating in the conversation that’s been going on in board rooms and Wall Street, it also didn’t seem to be setting the agenda for a new kind of conversation.
In our best hopes, Portfolio will be like a glamorous girl who, if she’s not actually hosting the party, at least draws a crowd around her with bright, insightful and witty remarks about the passing scene. Instead she just seemed to be have a nice smile, a dullish dress and not much to say.
What’s worse, it looked like we were actually going to have to read the thing. When the first issue showed up, we turned it over to our founder Elizabeth Spiers, who penned a three-thousand word critique. Now that she’s moved on and is concentrating on her novel, we figured the chances of getting her to review the second issue were pretty slim.
Obviously we underestimated Spiers. She’s back wielding her pen against Portfolio once again, this time in the pages of The New Republic.
[More after the jump]
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We used to do some work for a private equity guy who refused to even glance at newspapers or business magazines. His thought was that people who read newspapers were to caught up in the present, and should probably start reading magazines. And he said that people reading magazines should given them up for books.
“Worse than the news. By the time it’s in a magazine, it’s old news,” he’d say. “There’s nothing useful to be learned from them.”
But that isn’t true.
A trio of finance professors have demonstrated that at business magazines are good at indicating the end of a period of abnormal performance. Basically, if a magazine is writing about it, it’s already old news. And that is useful to know.
The study focused on the covers of BusinessWeek, Fortune and Forbes. But they’re old news themselves. We decided to apply the measurement to Portfolio. Glancing at the cover at Portfolio one sees that the magazine cover has, well, nothing. No words except it’s title, subtitle, title, date, and website. And it has a picture of Manhattan rooftops.
So is the message that nothing is over? The Portfolio is over? The Conde Nast is done? New York City is through? “Business Intelligence” is no longer businesslike or intelligent?
Then we remembered that we torn off a cover-flap. It’s stuck between the pages of an biography of Hilaire Beloc that we’ve been reading. Maybe that’s where the secrets to what is already over are hiding.
After the jump, the cover-flap stories and our analysis.
Sometimes the Stock Does Better Than the Investor That Buys the Stock [New York Times]
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The earliest reviews of Conde-Nast’s Portfolio are coming in. We probably should be doing things like reading the actual magazine. And we’re planning on getting to that as soon as we get up the courage to lift its 300-plus pages from the place where we dropped it. (Bess Levin’s desk, with a note: “Summarize all relevant data—Thks-JC.”)
But fortunately lots of other people are reading Portfolio so we don’t have to. Here’s a quick round-up of the early reactions.
Portfolio arrives to a somewhat testy Going Private, who thinks the magazine gets it wrong even before the first page. Even the cover is wrong, the acid penned mistress of the private equity world says. What’s wrong with the cover? According to Going Private it depicts “a bunch of hideous downtown rooftops bathed in the caustic acid of sodium lights on a business magazine cover that doesn’t even have a feature article on the financial performance of local roofing contractors or sodium light distributors.”
DealBook comes in with two items today on Portfolio. The first notes that the magazine wants to bring some glamour to world of business magazines.” And by glamour you get feeling that what they really mean is “women.” Indeed, as we noted a long, long time ago, Portfolio is aiming at being something of a business magazine for women. Most business magazines have readerships heavily tilted toward the male. Portfolio predicts that it will have a much more balanced readership. And apparently it hopes to achieve this by re-imagining corporate board rooms as a sort of red carpet or awards show where “business executives treated like celebrities,” according to DealBook.
After the jump we give Portfolio‘s readers the full treatment.
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Note: This photo accompanies an article on hedge funds by Tom Wolfe, not about Tom Wolfe, but damn if this shot doesn’t say, “‘I eat hedge funds like you every day for breakfast, Stevie Cohen. Not so much you, Griffin. I’’m telling you, the older I get, the less I can take big meals after 5. Plus, I find that the standard “’Wait 15 mins before swimming’ rule’ practically triples and low impact aerobics is really all I can do these days’.”” What Portfolio fails to mention here is that Tom, like most people in his peer group, has had his license revoked for some time.
It’s finally here. The business magazine that will change the way you spell Portfolio—it’s now spelled with some silly foreign currency symbol instead of an “f”—hits the newsstands today. The first issue of Conde Nast’s Portfolio is enormous—332 pages.
The table of contents of the first issue reads a bit like it was written by DealBreaker readers: lots and lots of stuff about hedge funds and private equity firms. Ken Griffin? Check! T. Boone Pickens? Check! Money culture? Double check with Tom Wolfe on top! Attempts to broaden the discussion with talk about automotive and newspaper sectors? Check and check.
We’re just tearing into the first issue and it’s full and frothy website. We’ll keep updating you on what we find throughout the day.
Portfolio’s Website [Conde Nast's Porfolio]
In a Troubled Time, a New Business Magazine [New York Times]
Eventually All We Will Be Writing About Is ‘Portfolio’ [Gawker]
Women’s Wear Daily reports that Conde Nast’s new business magazine has hired bloggers.
…portfolio.com has added three bloggers to the fold: Lauren Goldstein Crowe, who helped launch Time Style & Design, will blog about fashion; Felix Salmon will blog on finance, and Tim Swanson, formerly of Premiere, will have an entertainment news blog. The magazine will appear on April 16, and the Web site will go live the same day.
Portfolio Patrol [WWD]
In order to make a splash with its inaugural issue, Portfolio*–Conde Nast’s bid to remake the world of business magazines (by getting women to buy them)—has resorted to the oldest trick in publishing: using Tom Wolfe’s daughter to get Tom Wolfe to write something. Alexandra Wolfe, who we recall worked at the Observer for a while and maybe the Wall Street Journal—we used to kind of stalk her but lost track at some point—is writing for the front of the magazine and Papa Wolfe has 2,500 words on hedge funds.
This is actually good news. It might actually make us read Portfolio.
So what else does the first issue hold? Oh, that’s the other oldest trick: they’re keeping it top secret. Staffers have been ordered to keep quiet. But if you’re deadly curious about what they aren’t saying, this morning’s New York Observer has all the non-details that the Portfolio-ists think you need to know.
We’re always getting requests for more business media coverage, and we’re more than willing to oblige. But we’re also hoping you can help. Seen the first issue of Portfolio?
Had a fevered dream about it? Send your tips, fantasies or subscription cancellations to tips(at)dealbreaker(dot)com.
* The Department of Homeland Security has ordered us not to use that strange Flemish thing the magazine insists on substituting for the “f” in Portfolio.
Portfolio Staff Gets a Gag Order on Quiet Launch [Observer]
In Business Week:
$$$ Firing top executives, scheduled options rewards, and other ways companies named in the options scandal can save face and boost investor confidence. [How to Clean Up a Scandal]
$$$ MySpace: The short head of a burgeoning online social-networking movement [There's Not Enough 'Me' in MySpace]
Casual conversational Fridays: Some companies are requiring reduced email usage as a way to increase productivity. [*!#@ The Email. Can We Talk?]
$$$ Lead plaintiff in Halliburton class-action suit ask for a change in legal representation following recent charges against current attorney’s firm, Milberg Weiss. [Battle of the Class-Action Titans]
$$$ Forbes asks us what we would change about ourselves and the world if we could start from scratch. Some thoughts on the quality of higher education, the pharmaceutical industry, and America’s prison system. [Blank Slate]
$$$ MOOORE on the options scandal: spring-loading, symmetric spring-loading (what?), bullet-dodging (has anyone else never heard this one?). Aside from tougher disclosure rules, the SEC has yet to prosecute companies, executives, or compensation committees that do it, and few, if any, shareholder class-action suits have been pursued. You can’t really call it a “scandal” if, technically, nothing illegal has been done, right? [Sleazy CEOs have even more options tricks]
$$$ A, “$4 billion company run like a 20-person startup.” The rise and fall of Sanjay Kumar and Computer Associates. [CA: America's Most Dysfunctional Company]
$$$ Companies like Goldman and Amgen are looking to Teach for America’s recruits for potential talent. [Schooling Giants on Recruiting].
In Business Week:
$$$ Is a Democratic-controlled legislature too little, to late? Recommendations into the next “Big Idea” to safeguard U.S. economy against those eerie “global forces.” And four others we’re still wrestling with. [Can Anyone Steer This Economy?]
$$$ The Psychology of CEO Pay: Does high pay abet good decision-making or vice versa? A chicken-egg inquisition into their obscenely high paychecks. [CEO Pay: The Prestige, The Peril]
$$$ Giving CNBC a run for their money: the infinite possibilities of Fox Business News. [Is Fox’s Business Channel A Go?]
Millennial Micro-Managed Generation: How much of a role should parents play in their kids’ job search? [Are Parents Killing Their Kids’ Careers?]
$$$ One more list: A look into America’s 395 Largest Private Companies list, all pulling in at least $1 billion in annual revenue. [The Largest Private Companies]
$$$ Google vs. Microsoft: Microsoft to invest $650 million in search services, while Google looks to attract big accounts for business versions of its software. [Desperate Acts]
$$$ Paulson’s plans for the shaping economic policy after an upsetting Democratic sweep ⎯ and salvaging Bush’s two years. [Mr. Paulson Goes to Washington]
$$$ Milberg Weiss: counsel to the blue-collared worker, champion of the class-action lawsuit ⎯ indicted for giving $11.4 million in kickbacks to plaintiffs over the span of 25 years. [The Fall of America’s Meanest Law Firm]
$$$ Forget the Digital Revolution: MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld says the next revolution will be in manufacturing (think alarm clocks that wrestle you to make sure you wake up on time). [A Factory of One’s Own]
In Business Week:
$$$ Amazon to offer their computer and digital-distribution network models to smaller businesses, with many skeptics on Wall Street. [Jeff Bezos' Risky Bet]
$$$ The possibilities, pros, cons and profitability of harvesting alternative power for midwestern farmers co-ops. [Harvesting Green Power]
$$$ With the number of cases brought before the agency down 10% since the fall of Enron, the SEC investigate more acts of wrongdoing in 2007 [The SEC Gets Busy]
$$$ Commercial fishing boats workers, truck drivers, carpenters and executives at retail and other business service industries–numbers on industries where employees those who don’t last that long ron the job. [America's Most Dangerous Jobs]
$$$ Collision of print and the Web: This week, Google to offer customers opportunities to bid for advertising space in more than 50 print publications, including The New York Times and Boston Globe.
$$$ More compromise on regulation issues or greater pursuit of litigation? How the midterm elections will affect the SEC’s function. [Regulatory Climate To Ease Post-Election]
$$$ Secret service nab a master con artist due accused of inflating the value of real estate properties to home lenders and hording the profits [The Bonnie and Clyde of Mortgage Fraud]
$$$ With all eyes on Missouri and Viriginia, the spotlight may be on new, relatively untested voting machines, courtesy Diebold, Inc. [Rage Against the Machine]
$$$ McCain’s Straight Talk Express calls ethanol conversion programs an “artificial market” made to put money back into the pockets of big business, a position that could alienate him from midwestern votes in a possible bid for the White House in 2008 [McCain's farm flip]