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.
Or there was the editorial meeting this past spring when the idea was pitched to report out an up-to-date version of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the classic James Agee and Walker Evans book about sharecroppers in the Depression commissioned by Fortune in 1936.
“I don’t know it, and I don’t like it,” Ms. Lipman said, according to two staffers.
The firing of Jim Impoco caught many people off guard. And since Portfolio has declined to specify the reason for his dismissal, several theories have made the rounds on the 17th floor of the Condé Nast building.
Even supporters of Mr. Impoco will use words like “pugnacious,” in describing him, and one staffer said that he had been “sparring publicly” with Ms. Lipman for some time.
In a recent editorial meeting, Mr. Impoco harshly challenged her, belittling one of her story ideas as “breathless.” As one staffer said: “I think the people who are not the greatest fans of the boss were taken aback by that.”
And few fail to mention Mr. Impoco’s support of Kurt Eichenwald, the embattled investigative reporter who spent two decades at The New York Times before joining Portfolio a year ago. Mr. Eichenwald continues to court controversy over a December 2005 Times exposé on online child pornography. Two days after reports surfaced that he had paid more money than he’d previously admitted to a story subject, he resigned from Portfolio. (Officially, the magazine has still declined to comment on The Observer’s Aug. 10 report of the resignation.)
“I think that advertisers see the commitment that Condé Nast is making,” said publisher David Carey. “They are used to reading rumors and innuendo about Condé Nast.”
Mr. Carey added that attrition rates at Portfolio are in the “low single digits,” and perhaps five times less than at many competing magazines.
But whatever the reasons, good or bad, the firing of Mr. Impoco is not winning Ms. Lipman points with her staff.
“It seems like bad judgment, and just more capriciousness,” said a staffer. “There are people who are concerned that they are the next target.”
And another: “She was completely in control of the timing of it. Why not wait three weeks?”
But in three weeks it will be time to close the October issue.
“We’re delighted to be going monthly so that we can continue to make and break news for business readers,” Ms. Lipman wrote in her e-mail.
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