Graphic, Not Very Novel

Debit to Portfolio's illustrated history of Bear Stearns

A Debit to Portfolio for an experiment that doesn’t quite work: a brief illustrated history of the collapse of Bear Stearns.

Look, we know about the recent graphic novel craze, and we have no problem with journalism in that medium. In fact, we welcome new ways to tell stories.

But, despite a fa├žade of novelty, Portfolio is treading tired ground.

As anyone who even glances at the business press knows, the Journal’s Kate Kelly recently wrote what is thus far the definitive series on the last days of Bear Stearns. It’s a long, detailed piece of narrative journalism.

Then Portfolio comes along weeks later and tells the same story but in graphic novel form. In so doing, it substitutes most of the actual information with graphics.

The fact is, the Holocaust and life under a repressive regime in Iran offer excellent opportunities for strong graphics. But board meetings? A little less so.

Furthermore, not only did Portfolio not credit the Journal, but its project seems less original in light of the captioned cartoon drawings scattered throughout Kelly’s series.

Ultimately, the Portfolio feature is style at the expense of substance. (A trend, by the way, we see a little too often in that magazine.)

It’s no secret that journalistic resources are limited these days. And so they shouldn’t be used to tell the same story over and over again. Especially when there is news to break.

While Portfolio was scribbling its rehash, Kelly was busy digging out news, resulting in a front page scoop (subscription required) on Bear Stearns the same day the Portfolio project went up.

And Kelly is not the only one doing good, new work: Here’s Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil with another nice piece.

This work isn’t as flashy, but it’s far more important.

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Elinore Longobardi is a Fellow and staff writer of The Audit, the business-press section of Columbia Journalism Review.