An odd thing happened after Jacob Lewis was hired as Portfolio’s managing editor back in September: that wacky 17th floor at 4 Times Square, full of firings and bloody exits, began to calm down.
“When he came in, we had been in a period of start-up tumult, and he’s helped move us into the next phase,” said Kyle Pope, Portfolio’s articles editor.
“He’s made the trains run on time in some basic, fundamental way that as a start-up we were having problems with,” said Jesse Eisinger, a senior staff writer.
“My goal is to make this place work,” Mr. Lewis told Off the Record.
As managing editor Mr. Lewis, 37, who spent 12 years at The New Yorker, including five as its managing editor, has brought a steady and practiced hand to the wheel of Portfolio, which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. “I wanted someone who knew how magazines worked,” said Joanne Lipman, the magazine’s editor. “And I wanted to bring in someone who already knew Condé Nast.”
Prior to Mr. Lewis’ arrival, Portfolio bore little resemblance to the other high-profile magazines of 4 Times Square. Ms. Lipman, Mr. Pope and Jim Impoco, the magazine’s ousted deputy editor, had all come directly from newspapers, and they made an early habit of hiring staff writers, hardly standard Condé practice. “You just never think of a mix of stories when you work for a daily paper,” said one staffer. “I don’t think everyone understood that coming in here, and I think they’re still learning it, but it’s basic stuff for magazine people.”
Mr. Lewis, in contrast, thinks the idea of a staff writer is “silly,” according to another employee. Recent hires, like David Margolick, Howell Raines and Dana Thomas, have been offered contracts, as they are in most of the rest of the building, and existing staff writers have been asked to give up their health benefits, 401(k) plans and prospective pension plans and join the magazine under contract. (Mr. Lewis is quick to point out they could decline this shift to independence; indeed, only Alexandra Wolfe, daughter of Tom and a former Observer staffer, took him up on it.)
Unused office space has been jettisoned, and the production process has become more orderly. “There’s so much less drama,” said one staffer. Including in the photo department, which according to three staffers has experienced some tension with Ms. Lipman, particularly after a recent spread containing several high-profile names wound up on the cutting-room floor. “He’s worked hard to give Joanne an understanding between editorial, production and some of the art people,” said one person.
Mr. Lewis is well loved in the whole building. He’s friends with Rick Levine, the vice president and editorial director at Condé Nast, and his wife, Kate Lewis, is the managing editor of Self.
“I still talk to Jacob,” said The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick. “I try to help him with whatever advice I can give him.”
Did Condé chief Si Newhouse and editorial director Tom Wallace install Mr. Lewis as an emergency reparative measure for a high-investment project that has received mixed reviews thus far? ”Tom Wallace and Si Newhouse had actually nothing to do with Jacob being hired,” said company spokeswoman Maurie Perl. Mr. Lewis said the move was merely because he didn’t have a lot of editorial input at The New Yorker, and craved more out of life than organizing production schedules and itemizing blue sheets. “I wanted a broader job and a different job with different responsibilities,” he said.
And he’s got big plans! “I want to make copy-flow changes and work with how pieces go from one department to the other and how editors deal with fact-checkers,” he said. “And we’re going to have closing meetings where there weren’t closing meetings before,” he said. “The biggest changes I’m making haven’t happened yet.”