The writing has pretty much been on the wall for Portfolio since the recent news that it had a staggering 46 percent decline in advertising (60 percent if you don’t account for the fact that it decreased publication from twelve issues to ten) in the first quarter.
The magazine never fulfilled its vast potential, but it’s still a big blow to business journalism.
When Condé Nast launched the glossy two years ago, it was a rare and welcome infusion of capital into journalism—one that came at an auspicious time for business journalism and an inauspicious one for the business of journalism.
Portfolio launched in April 2007 just as the first cracks were showing in the financial system. It had an unprecedented bankroll behind it (reported to be in the $100 million to $150 million range), an all-star lineup of journalistic talent, a stacked website, and the marketing and ad-sales might of Condé Nast.
But it was launched for the boom just as the bust began. It was a pitch to get upper-end readers who would draw a wealth of luxury ads. Remember editor-in-chief Joanne Lipman was a star at The Wall Street Journal for creating Weekend Journal and Personal Journal, its lifestyle sections.
Portfolio never seemed to have a center. Despite putting out good work—anything by Jesse Eisinger, and Dan Golden’s Countrywide investigation come to mind immediately—it never really put together an issue that made me glad to have read it.
And it made bizarre editorial blunders like the cover of its November issue, which came out just a few weeks after consecutive catastrophes at Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac combined to form an apocalypse on the mag’s beat.
Who graced that cover? Dov Charney of American Apparel.
Not exactly good for newsstand sales, that guy.
Sarah Palin also hit the cover of Portfolio, but not when she was, you know, newsy, like during her campaign for the vice presidency. Nope, last month.
This was Bizarro World for a monthly business magazine. The Palin cover—a great photograph, I admit—had five stories listed. Just one hinted at anything about the world-smashing financial crisis going on.
BusinessWeek’s Jon Fine writes this:
It debuted at the end of a business boom, not at the beginning of one; it comes at a time when business is a moment-by-moment bloodsport uniquely unsuited to being chronicled at a leisurely monthly frequency.
I don’t think that’s quite right. There’s more room than ever for a place whose business journalism helps us make sense of the financial world by stepping back from the “moment-by-moment” and really thinking about something—and, you know, telling stories.
Portfolio just wasn’t it.Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.