martes, abril 03, 2007

Portfolio: La apuesta de Condé Nast

Portfolio es la gran apuesta de Condé Nast, la más grande de las compañías dedicadas a la publicación de revistas. Como una suma de los estilos de Vanity Fair y el New Yorker, Portfolio rompe con el alicaído mundo editorial, con un mercado no acostumbrado a los lanzamientos y con la orientación que han tomado las publicaciones más exitosas, básicamente inclinadas al mundo del espectáculo y la entretención. En los últimos años, salvo el The Economist y el New Yorker, las revistas de actualidad han perdido lectores, avisadores e ingresos. Por lo mismo, Portfolio -la revista más esperada de los últimos años- se convierte en una aventura que será seguida muy de cerca por todos los actores del mercado. Paul Fari es periodista del Washington Post y colaborador frecuentes del AJR.

Por Paul Fari
It seems like the most counterintuitive (not to say craziest) media venture of the decade. At a time when print is fading, when business magazines are struggling, when monthly frequency seems glacial in an age of digital speed, magazine giant Condé Nast is preparing to launch a...monthly business magazine. Nearly two years in the making, Condé Nast Portfolio will hit newsstands with its first issue in days. Its very existence seems to raise a defiant question: Can top-shelf narrative journalism, plus posh photography and design, overcome the forces arrayed against it?

Portfolio has been the buzz of New York's gossipy media and advertising circles for months, despite, or maybe because of, the secrecy surrounding it. The magazine's staff has guarded the first issue's contents as if it were an unannounced corporate takeover offer. The semiofficial line is that Portfolio will be a kind of hybrid of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair (both, like Portfolio, part of S.I. Newhouse's privately held print empire). In other words, Portfolio will be exhaustively reported, literary and slick-–a business magazine for people who don't like to read business magazines.

For $100 million, would you expect anything less? That's the bankroll supposedly behind Portfolio's editorial staff of about 70 (the number will eventually grow to about 90), and the kind of heart-quickening figure that has helped stoke all the buzz. While Condé Nast rarely does anything on the cheap, the $100 million figure could stand a little more context. Portfolio's publisher, David Carey, acknowledges that Condé Nast may indeed spend that much to promote and sustain the magazine and its Web site (, but over the course of six years. Still enough to buy fine things, but more like a Lexus than a Maserati. So far, the money has purchased a first-class editorial roster. The first--and most important–-hire was Editor-in-Chief Joanne Lipman, formerly one of the Wall Street Journal's rising stars. Since leaving the Journal in October 2005, Lipman has gone up and down Broadway, cherry-picking talent. Her first draft choice came from inside Condé Nast; Blaise Zerega, the managing editor at Condé Nast-owned Wired, became Lipman's No. 2. Then came two deputies: Jim Impoco, formerly editor of the New York Times' Sunday Business section, and Amy Stevens, who had edited the Journal's lifestyle-oriented Weekend Journal section. Another Journal vet, Ken Wells, is a senior editor.

The writing staff includes a trio of veterans from Fortune magazine: Betsy Morris, Dan Roth and Katrina Brooker. The other big-name writers are former New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald and Matthew Cooper, late of Time magazine, who will be Portfolio's man in Washington. The list of contributors has such glittering names as author Michael Lewis ("Moneyball," "Liar's Poker"), The New Yorker's John Cassidy and ex-Journal writer Roger Lowenstein.

A strong start, but now what?

Almost everyone agrees the answer depends largely on how Lipman, 45, shapes the magazine. Condé Nast is known for employing editors with distinctive signatures, such as David Remnick at The New Yorker, Anna Wintour at Vogue and Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair. The difference in this case is that Lipman isn't inheriting a title with a long editorial history and unique voice. She won't be tweaking the magazine's tone; she'll be creating it.

Lipman says there's "a big white space" in the business field for a magazine that is in-depth, investigative and lavishly illustrated. It's a niche, she says, that isn't filled by the category's Big Three-–Fortune, Forbes and BusinessWeek-–or by smaller competitors such as Smart Money, Business 2.0, The Economist or Inc. "We'll be different than any of the other magazines out there," she promises. "There's no reason to go in and say, 'We're going to be just like magazine X but better.' That's not a reason to do a magazine. The reason is, the approach we're taking, the way that we look at a business story and the way we define what a business story is.
"We're not here to try and kill someone else," she adds. "We're here because we're true believers that there is a new way to look at business coverage and there's room in the marketplace to do that."

Lipman presides over Portfolio from a corner office in the Condé Nast building at the foot of Times Square. She moved into Condé Nast's intimidatingly elegant midtown offices after spending 22 years, her entire professional career, at the downtown Journal. Her new environs are all cool surfaces and modern trappings that instantly put a visitor in mind of Runway magazine, the barely fictionalized version of Condé Nast's Vogue in "The Devil Wears Prada." Downstairs, there's Condé Nast's famous Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria. Outside, there's blinking neon and mobs of tourists. Lipman herself wears an elegantly tailored dark suit and calf-high boots on this early February afternoon. She's friendly, but a little distracted; she's just returned from the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, and she's in danger of falling behind as launch day looms.

A longtime newspaper rat, Lipman, 45, fell in love with the Journal and business journalism as a teenager. She'd read the paper during bus rides into Manhattan from her home in New Jersey with her father, an executive of a manufacturing company. As a junior at Yale, she landed an internship at the paper ("It was my goal in life," she says), and was hired immediately after graduation.

After launching the Journal's first advertising column in 1989 and pregnant with her second child, she was close to burnout when Paul Steiger, now the paper's top editor, suggested she join the Journal's elite page-one editing staff. Lipman emerged as one of the bright lights of that group and was handed a series of ambitious projects: the launches of Weekend Journal in 1998 and Personal Journal in 2002, the paper's redesign that year and the start of its Saturday edition in 2005. Indeed, the paper's transformation over the past decade was largely overseen by Lipman.

The success of each undertaking moved Lipman a little higher up the short list to succeed Steiger, who will retire this year. It also made her one of New York's most courted editors. "You couldn't walk into Michael's [a noted New York media haunt] without seeing her having lunch" with a rival publisher, says a longtime Journal colleague. Condé Nast won her over not only by giving her control of her own magazine but also a salary that reportedly exceeds that of her mentor, Steiger.

In many ways, she recognizes, it's a dream job. "There's a wonderful feeling when you can sit in a room and do this blue-sky thinking, [asking] 'Who would be the best writer for this particular story?' And you can throw out any name and know that you can approach that person and know you have the ability to do that," Lipman says. "That's a great thing about Condé Nast. You get the resources that are necessary."

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