Shortly after former Newsweek writer Dana Thomas signed a contract with Portfolio to become the latter magazine’s European editor, she celebrated with a “couple-thousand”-dollar shopping spree.
“The first thing I did after I got the job was go shopping, and I bought three new dresses and a pair of red boots,” she said. “They’re red suede boots and they go over the knee—they’re really hot. I wore them on The Tyra Banks Show and she said she loved them, and I thought, ‘These are my Condé Nast boots!’”
Recently, Portfolio has gone on a significant shopping spree of its own. In mid-January, the magazine brought in longtime Vanity Fair contributor David Margolick to become a contributing editor; this just two months after poaching VF contributing editor Suzanna Andrews. They have also signed former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines to a contract; hired former New York Post city editor Dan Colarusso to run their Web site; and put longtime freelancer James Verini on contract. Two weeks ago, editor Joanne Lipman was speaking to Slate founder Michael Kinsley about a potential consulting relationship.
How is the embattled business start-up beefing up its masthead so aggressively (albeit with contract rather than staff writers, two of whom, Daniel Roth and Gabriel Sherman, departed during the holiday season)?
“They gave me everything I asked for,” said Ms. Thomas, author of the hit book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster (Penguin Group, $27.95). “I asked for the title of European editor because I thought it sounded very grand, and they said, ‘Sure, all right.’ And I asked for a decent salary, and they said, ‘Sure!’ I was like, ‘Wow, all right.’ I asked for an office [in Paris] and they said, ‘We’ll see what we can do!’ And I said, ‘Cool.’” You go, sister girlfriend!
“I’ve sort of concluded it matters less where you appear than what you do and what you’re able to do and how much support you have in doing that,” said Mr. Margolick of his departure from what conventional wisdom holds is one of the cushier gigs in the magazine biz. “Ultimately, one’s work is judged by its intrinsic merit.”
“If you have the clout of this company behind you, wouldn’t you do it?” Mr. Colarusso asked rhetorically. And then answered: “If you know you have the resources to do a job right, and you have a culture that’s in process and developing and developing at a high level, absolutely you do it.”
According to Portfolio brass, these courtships were mutually ardent.
“We were as eager to get them as they were eager to come,” said Jacob Lewis, the magazine’s managing editor, speaking from the corridor of the 17th floor at 4 Times Square on Monday, Feb. 4.
Mr. Lewis himself swooshed down the elevator from The New Yorker back in late October—well after Portfolio was already experiencing defections and problems from the inside. “The New Yorker is an amazing place to work in any number of ways, but this seemed like a good next step for me,” he said.
Speaking of The New Yorker, Ms. Thomas said that it was advice from Michael Specter, a staff writer at that publication, that in part motivated her move. “I love that a woman is running it, and I love how Michael Lewis is writing something and Jay McInerney is writing something, and I thought that’s very hip,” she said. “It’s kinda cool. It’s like they’re doing the Esquire thing. Everyone talks about Esquire in the 60’s was the place to write. This is the new Esquire. I get the feeling that’s what’s happening.”