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.
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]
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]
If there were champagne corks popping around the office of Conde Nast’s Portfolio on Monday, there might be some wound licking this morning. Yesterday the New York Post declared the magazine “empty.” This morning the New York Observer’s Michael Thomas finds himself disappointed with the magazine. (And, of course, you can read Elizabeth Spiers’ devastating take on the magazine here.)
The New York Observer’s take sums up the view of those who are short the magazine:
Nowhere in the 335 pages of this first issue is the merest remnant of what we used to call history and the fascinating—and even occasionally instructive—parallels between past and present. It’s as if our present world sprang whole from the brow of Mammon. Perhaps I’m asking too much intellectually, but what troubles me most about Portfolio is how lightweight it is, despite its physical bulk. This is supposed to be a magazine about business, about making money and losing it, about getting and spending, about honor and thievery. About character and the clues it strews. (There’s a great piece waiting for someone on Steve Schwarzman’s syntax.) And speaking of the Blackstone supremo, how come Jimmy Lee, for a decade the Spirit of Christmas Present to Schwarzman’s Scrooge, isn’t a lead underwriter in the Blackstone I.P.O.? What a nice piece that would make.
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.
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.