Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Does Portfolio Matter?

We journalists are unique in the animal kingdom in that we feed on our young. (OK, maybe pussycats do that too ... whatever.) One example is the constant barrage of criticism directed at the new Conde Nast biz magazine, Portfolio. Here's one. Here's another.

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.

UPDATE: A reader opines as follows:

I think the reason so many people have the long knives out for Portfolio is the sheer hubris of the thing. They’ve set themselves up as being somehow different than just another business magazine. We’re not just going to cover business, they seem to be saying – that’s for other, lesser publications. We’re going to be the place to turn to for great, compelling human stories about business.

From their “mission statement,” part of their media kit on the Conde Nast website (, with snarky commentary added by me:

“Conde Nast Portfolio seeks nothing less than to shape the conversation in business.” (Like other business publications don’t.)

"This highly anticipated new magazine is sharply intelligent, visually compelling, and produced by renowned editors, writers, photographers, and illustrators.” (Most of whom worked at those other, lesser business publications before Portfolio anointed them.)

"Published monthly, Conde Nast Portfolio gives talented writers the time to research stories thoroughly and the rare opportunity to shape them into compelling pieces of depth and sophistication.” (Emphasis mine, but otherwise this speaks for itself.)

“In a marketplace awash with sound bites but hungry for insight, Conde Nast Portfolio frames the big picture.”

Is some of the criticism unfair and premature? Maybe. But Portfolio has no one to blame but itself.

I'll admit, that's pretty flacky stuff. CN's public relations apparatus might have handled this better. But as the author of more than one book proposal, I'm not going to throw stones at people who engage in hype.

© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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Wall Street Versus America was published by Penguin USA on April 6.
Click here for its listing and here for more information on the book, from my web site,

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