At Portfolio, Prehistory Was Prologue

The magazine that resulted from that lunchtime chat closed its doors on Monday, April 27, some four years after that lunch at Mr. Newhouse’s, or two years after the first issue of Portfolio, as the magazine was called, printed its first issue.

After 22 years at the Journal, and nearly four years with Condé Nast, Ms. Lipman has found herself not only without a title to edit, but fully without a job. She no longer works for Mr. Newhouse. The story Ms. Lipman told about a dozen staffers on Monday was that the magazine folded because the economy it was built to cover collapsed.

And that’s true, but it isn’t the whole story.

 

WEEKS AFTER MS. LIPMAN WAS HIRED by Condé Nast in 2005, David Carr wrote in The New York Times about Condé’s new project and said, “Given that the company hired Joanne Lipman, the Wall Street Journal’s innovator in chief who helped conceptualize its Personal Journal and Weekend Journal sections, it will be a smart package, if nothing else.”

“Who could resist a chance to take part in the Last Great Magazine Launch?” asked Jim Impoco, who served as Ms. Lipman’s No. 2 editor until he was fired in August of 2007. “It was a chance to work with tremendous talent. Working with Robert Priest was like taking a graduate course in magazine art direction.”

Early mock-ups of the magazine’s cover obtained by the Observer, made over a year before its launch, displayed the perfect abstract representation of an unbeatable business magazine.

There: an intimate portrait of Rupert and Wendi Murdoch in a deep embrace—Rupert is wearing a black turtleneck, Wendi in a white sweater, the East River churning behind them in the background.

“Murdoch She Wrote” reads the coverline across the bottom of eight different cover designs with eight different titles. Then: “NEWS CORP. CEO’S WIFE HAS BIG PLANS FOR HIS COMPANY—AND THEY DON’T INCLUDE HIS KIDS.”

Wow. Seduction! Sex! Succession! Scandal!

What other imaginary headlines made up the unconscious dream of Portfolio?

“Gucci Gulps: Turmoil at The Fashion House.” “Fast Times at Morgan Stanley: Inside the Sex Harassment Scandal.” “Ipod Killer: Cell Phones Bite Apple.” “Terror Inc.: Corporate America’s Secret Ties to the CIA.” “Private Jets, For the Rest of Us.”

Names being tried out on this cover treatment included SCOOP, with the two O’s blacked out to resemble nothing so much as a pair of boobs like the ones in the posters for the movie Amarcord; Advance (Hi, Si!); currency (note punctuation!); the file (once again!); liQuid (OK!); The File; and SPARK.

The make-believe stories were the perfect intersection of business with everything else, as Ms. Lipman liked to say. That is, business was never enough of a topic on its own for a story.

So how could it hold together a magazine?