Editor Joanne Lipman on Portfolio Mag's Failure

On Monday, Condé Nast Portfolio became one of more than 140 magazines to fold so far this year. But not since Talk Magazine was silenced in 2002 has a magazine's rise and fall been so much the object of media gossip—and venom. So it is only fitting that Tina Brown, who edited the ill-fated Talk and now runs DailyBeast.com, should praise editor Joanne Lipman and Portfolio in a column this week while slamming the magazine's detractors as Schadenfreude-filled player haters. ("It was a phenomenal piece," Lipman tells NEWSWEEK.) Chipper as ever, Lipman won't admit to having any regret. In her most extensive interview since her magazine's closure, NEWSWEEK'S Johnnie L. Roberts spoke to Lipman about its 24-month run, her reported $100 million budget, the future of magazines and what she plans on doing next. Excerpts:

Roberts: What two things would you do differently, if you had a second go at launching Portfolio?
Lipman: I can only give one—to launch in a better economy.

When did you realize that the closing was inevitable?
That point never came. Everyone at Condé Nast, all of our readers, everyone was rooting for us. There wasn't a sense of inevitability. We've all—everyone in print—been working in a difficult environment. There's an understanding that everyone in our industry faces: changing economic conditions and a changing media environment.

When were you officially informed? And what was your reaction?
I was informed on Monday. Obviously, I was disappointed. I'm so proud of the great magazine we put out. And Condé Nast has been clear about this—and S.I. [Newhouse] has been explicit: this is purely an economic decision. This is the magazine we set out to create. Journalistically, we achieved what we set out to do.

What about Portfolio's infamous $100 million budget? Real or imagined?
No comment on the budget. But contrary to myth, we didn't have a blank check. And any investment that anyone makes in any publication is over a period of years.

Being the editor of a Condé Nast title puts one in the spotlight big time. What did you like most and least about the job?
I loved my job, the creative aspects of it, creating something new. The spotlight? That was certainly an adjustment. At The Wall Street Journal, I was in a job that was high impact on the paper but low visibility in the public.

What did you get most right, most wrong in the job?
A magazine is a creative enterprise, so it's always evolving. I couldn't be happier with the magazine. You're always trying new things. That's the nature of the thing. Some of the new things you try work better than others. We were in the process of building on things that worked and weeding out those that didn't.

Your thoughts on the future of the magazine business?
I'm optimistic. People want the material. There is a real demand for information. And there's a need for people to understand what's happening in our world beyond the daily headlines and minute-to-minute headlines. Magazines can provide that perspective and are a tactile experience that isn't as easily replicated on the Web as newspapers. Will technology evolve ... to have a device that could mimic the satisfying tactile experience? That would change the business model totally. Someone is going to figure out how to make it pay.

Is the market simply not big enough for several major business titles—Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek, etc.? What did Portfolio add to the mix?
Portfolio's DNA was to be smart, substantive and sexy. Our approach was always counterintuitive. If the story were conventional wisdom, we wouldn't write about it. We brought ambitious narrative journalism to a field that had often been seen as narrow. There was plenty of appetite for the material. It couldn't have been stronger. This is the story of the 21st century—business, finance and the economy.

What's next for you?
A vacation.

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