What Would The Audit Do?

If somehow The Great One were to raise $125 million for a new magazine and then asked The Audit to reinvent business-reporting from scratch — how would I go about it?


The question comes up because, comme le sait le tout New York, this Monday marks the launch of Conde Nast Portfolio. If you have not heard of Conde Nast Portfolio, I think it is safe to say you are an embarrassment to yourself and your family and you will not be getting a good table at Michael’s(1) anytime soon, if you get a table at all. And if you don’t know about Michael’s, well, The Audit cannot help you. Perhaps you can find another blog.


Portfolio is not just another big media rollout, like Talk, 300 or The Insurance Transparency Project. Portfolio is itself an important business story (well-covered in New York, New York Observer and elsewhere), coming as it does amid an historic, some would say, secular, that is, permanent, shift of ad revenue away from print. People who know believe this will be the last big magazine rollout of its kind.


So, Portfolio would be important if it was about science or sports. But it’s about business, and if you believe, as I do, that something fundamental has shifted in the relationship between the economy and the individual, that plausible ideas have been followed out the window to the detriment of broad sectors of society, and that we (one hopes) are reaching the point of another shift, then Portfolio could not come at a better time. If you don’t believe any of that, check for hair on your forehead: You may be working for the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.


Portfolio is easy to mock – and it has been — for its ambition, its budget, the parade of business-reporting talent it has attracted, and the quasi-super-secret build up to Monday’s launch. I, for instance, considered writing this entire post in French. But if you think business reporting, if you think business, is important, you want this magazine to succeed. So pipe down and subscribe. If The Audit can afford it, you can.


The new magazine has already attracted top talent, including The Audit’s former colleagues and superiors at the WSJ, among them, Joanne Lipman, who created, among other things, Weekend Journal, a conspicuous bright spot during some dark financial years for the WSJ’s publisher, Dow Jones & Co.; Amy Stevens, a dynamite law reporter who, among other things, nimbly succeeded Lipman at Weekend Journal; Ken Wells, a former WSJ page one editor known for his legerdemain with the middle-column Page One stories known as A-heds; Matt Cooper, the former Time reporter; and Kurt Eichenwald, a prominent ex-New York Times business reporter.


The prototype stories posted on its website look good: A piece about a security company described as “America’s most powerful private army;” another on financial jockeying for control of the National Hockey League; an inside look at the empire of an Indian steel magnate who spent $55 million on his daughter’s wedding. Who’s not going to at least start that story?


Like Lipman, I’d also spend lavishly on photos and design, avoiding, if possible, the white-guy-of-certain-age cover for the first issue.


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I’d also get Tom Wolfe to write a piece on hedge funds, as Lipman apparently has. I’d call James Stewart, author of “Den of Thieves,” one of the best-written business book ever, and much other great work, including “Disney War.” Indeed, I’m sure that has been done.


But, I’d also go after the guy who wrote this (the emphasis is mine):


KNOCKER, STICKER, SHACKLER, RUMPER, First Legger, Knuckle Dropper, Navel Boner, Splitter Top/Bottom Butt, Feed Kill Chain — the names of job assignments at a modern slaughterhouse convey some of the brutality inherent in the work. Meatpacking is now the most dangerous job in the United States. The injury rate in a slaughterhouse is about three times higher than the rate in a typical American factory. Every year about one out of three meatpacking workers in this country — roughly forty-three thousand men and women — suffer an injury or a work-related illness that requires medical attention beyond first aid. There is strong evidence that these numbers, compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, understate the number of meatpacking injuries that occur. Thousands of additional injuries and illnesses most likely go unrecorded. (2)


Then, I’d find the lady who wrote this:

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.