When Portfolio editor in chief Joanne Lipman fired deputy Jim Impoco on the morning of August 7, a week before the magazine’s long-awaited second issue hit newsstands, the conversation about the fledgling Condé Nast business magazine shifted once again from its contents—were they really gonna say that about George Steinbrenner?—to the perception that chaos is reigning in the magazine’s 4 Times Square offices.
And inside those offices, Ms. Lipman is taking a lot of the blame.
“The second issue—and whole magazine—would be much smarter and more successful if Mr. Impoco was in charge,” said one Portfolio staffer. “Instead of being fired, he should have been named editor in chief.”
This issue is an improvement over the last one, from a reader’s point of view if not from that of Si Newhouse, who collected 63 pages less in ad revenue from issue No. 2.
To showcase Daniel Roth’s feature on the takeover of Chrysler, there’s a striking photograph of a car assembly line, complete with prodding robots the color of traffic cones. It’s a more ambitious aesthetic choice than a cover at say, Fortune, where Mr. Roth previously worked. And again, it’s that rare cover choice Portfolio exhibited with its first issue—it’s not a portrait of a person.
But as with the first issue, the cover decision came fairly late in the production cycle. Three sources at the magazine told The Observer that Mr. Roth’s 5,800-word piece was not even slated to be in the September issue, and would not have been included if the lately departed Mr. Impoco hadn’t pushed for it.
Also, the staffers said that Ms. Lipman had planned to hold the issue’s second-most prominently featured piece—the much-discussed article by Franz Lidz on George Steinbrenner’s declining health, which included rare access to the Yankees boss in Howard Hughes-like reclusion.
Instead, staffers said, Ms. Lipman was pushing for a cover story about a new business venture launched by followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
That piece has been shelved until October, said two staffers.
Ms. Lipman would only respond to questions by e-mailing a statement, which presented the Roth piece as an example of the depth of reporting possible on a monthly schedule; and the Lidz piece, which she said demonstrated the value of releasing a story on the Internet before the magazine hit newsstands. Portfolio spokesperson Perri Dorset told The Observer that the Steinbrenner and Chrysler stories were “scheduled for the September issue from the beginning.”
Another staffer said that there is “some revisionism going on” among Mr. Impoco’s partisans about his role in the development of the second issue.
Many who work for Ms. Lipman call her tough and determined. But even those who support her inside the magazine characterize her learning curve at a monthly glossy as steep, and often treacherous. This is the first magazine venture for Ms. Lipman, a newspaper veteran who worked 22 years at The Wall Street Journal. And three sources at the magazine said that Ms. Lipman doesn’t generally read them.
At one meeting, when The Atlantic’s James Fallows was suggested as a writer for a story, two staffers said Ms. Lipman asked for some clips from the five-time National Magazine Award finalist. The two both also confirmed reports that Ms. Lipman is fond of saying her ideal writer at Portfolio would be James Patterson—the advertising executive-turned-best-selling crime novelist.