Portfolio disappoints this month with its cover story on the oil boom in Iraq.
We had bought the magazine on the newsstand for its cover and were pulled in by the headline, “Boomtown, Iraq.” We read that there’s an area of Iraq where they’re building McMansions, they love Americans so much they practically want to become the 51st state and where if you shoot the dirt just maybe up through the ground comes a bubblin’ crude? Tell us more!
Oh, dang. Turns out, it’s just Kurdistan, where this stuff was happening long before the U.S. invaded Iraq (this latest time, that is). The region has been semi-independent from Iraq for more than 15 years, first under the U.S. and British no-fly zones. You don’t get a hint of that from this story, though.
Kurdistan’s prosperity and stability are well known, even to business-press readers, and yet Portfolio pretends this is news. The editorial misjudgment is compounded by the idea of selling the magazine’s cover on a story that seems to be about prosperity inside Iraq proper, a story that a reader might believe plausible given recent security gains in Baghdad and elsewhere.
Our second beef relates to the story’s gonzo/New Journalism style, which may have been employed to make up for the lack of news, but boils down to descriptions of the cornflakes and omelets-to-order the writer ate in his hotel.
For the duration of the article we tag along with the author as he traipses around town visiting television stations, business owner’s and minister’s offices, power plants, oil pumps. Then he hits an amusement park with billiards and bowling.
And I’m thinking, Yes, this is the climax of the piece right here, affluent Kurds clowning around, the magazine’s going to love this entertaining stuff, so why does that make me feel like a pimp in a burgundy velvet suit? Who are these people who keep Al Qaeda from infiltrating their homeland while the U.S. Army scratches its head and watches the rest of Iraq fall to pieces? And why haven’t the New York Times and CNN taken notice? Here’s a guess, just one possibility: because journalists are pimps for war, my friends, in burgundy velvet suits. And that’s the news from here.
Again, since it’s not at all surprising when the author writes, “And the Kurds love Americans. Love, love,” we question whether a story about Kurdistan’s prosperity might have been better played inside.
We felt the same way (see fourth item) about February’s cover, Joe Keohane’s piece on fat. Such thoughts have crept into our minds about earlier covers, including November’s by Jesse Eisinger, who wrote an analytical piece about Wall Street’s troubles that was fine, but didn’t have either a narrative or enough new information to merit a cover.
What we like about Portfolio is that we don’t feel like we’re walking in on the middle of a conversation the way we sometimes do reading Forbes or Fortune. We applaud its appeal to lay readers. We love the rich design. We’re happy it’s here.
But in the end, it’s about the stories. Some cover pieces simply don’t stand up to their prominent display.
A credit to Business Week for a journalism 2.0 treatment of a web 2.0 subject.
Editors realized that this story by Stephen Baker and Heather Green about the benefits of social media was still being linked to and read widely date despite having been written in 2005.
So they went through and updated the story with new links and changed the headline from “Blogs Will Change Your Business” to “Social Media Will Change Your Business.”
If you’re going to read an article it’s helpful to have the most up-to-date numbers, and Business Week took advantage of the fact that the Web allows for that. Among some of the more interesting pop-up amendments (in italics):
First, a few numbers. There are some 9 million blogs out there,