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]
Spiers starts off lamenting the lack of a high-end business magazine. "But if Portfolio were a high-end business magazine, I'd be an enthusiastic subscriber. The problem is that it's not. Press coverage has referred to it as a 'Vanity Fair for business.' It's not that, either," she writes.
And she's just getting started. The piece concludes by calling for the head of Joanne Lipman, Portfolio's top editor. Spiers suggests hiring Tina Brown to run the magazine.
Why Tina Brown? Isn't she the one who let Rosy O'Donnell edit the New Yorker? To understand why Spiers thinks Brown should get the job is to understand where exactly Spiers thinks Portfolio made a wrong turn. At the heart of the magazine's problem is a lack of an appreciation of power in business, according to Spiers. "Any magazine about power elites in America these days would be, by default, a magazine about business people--the people who, in Godfather-speak, inevitably 'pull the strings,'" Spiers writes. "And if Brown didn't know who those people were immediately, she'd figure it out, probably as much from personal interest as professional."
Traditionally, a new magazine is supposed to be given at least one year of publishing before it can be properly reviewed. It takes time for editorial direction to take shape, for writers, editors and subjects to understand each other and for readers to appreciate a new approach. So we're not ready to call for anyone's head just yet. Portfolio might be underperforming but so are a lot things these days. And, at the very least, it's editors can pat themselves on the back for having accomplished this much: they've now been reviewed by Spiers twice. As far as we know, that's a new record.
Distressed Asset [The New Republic]