Second issue pivotal for 'Portfolio's' future

With print journalism fighting for relevance, can a highly anticipated magazine bounce back from a lackluster launch? That's the question looming for Conde Nast's troubled new business magazine, Portfolio.

With print journalism fighting for relevance, can a highly anticipated magazine bounce back from a lackluster launch? That's the question looming for Conde Nast's troubled new business magazine, Portfolio.

Speculation surrounding the stylish magazine surged as its identity crisis seemed to worsen. Its tagline, "Business Intelligence," promises a savvy certitude that has eluded the magazine so far. Conde Nast's sophisticated branding and hiring of top-notch editors from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal may have heightened expectations a bit too much.

Perri Dorset, executive director of communications for Conde Nast Business Media, says newspapers are struggling more than magazines and that Portfolio plans to be a valued source of breaking news and in-depth stories both in print and online.

"You'll see a consistency in the magazine once we go monthly," Dorset says. "It's been hard for the media world to see... because this is only our second issue."

Dean Starkman, who covers business journalism for the Columbia Journalism Review, says, "My reaction to the first issue was the same as everyone else - I was disappointed and didn't get the point they were trying to go for."

Yet, looking closer, Portfolio's crises aren't much different from the glum issues facing most print journalists - including mixing quirky social media with traditional reporting.

Among the magazine's reported woes: Ad pages are down to 122 pages from 185 in its first issue, a prominent editor has been fired, and it lost its star investigative reporter for hazy reasons after it was revealed that he violated journalistic ethics. And although the magazine has denied moving toward an off-the-cuff approach to news, it is looking to introduce webcasts hosted by actors who can emulate Tina Fey's irreverent style.

But unlike most print outlets, Portfolio has been groomed by the media elite to make business reporting bolder and sexier.

So could the second issue set the stage for a comeback?

"That's sort of the suspense, isn't it?" says Starkman. "This is the last of its kind. Everyone knows that print media is going through incredible convulsions."

The lag time between the highly buzzed first issue, which launched in April, and the second, which hit newsstands August 15, indicates the venture is still a work in progress, he adds.

"It seems like first issue was some sort of trial balloon," says Starkman. "They are trying to reshape and redefine the category we think of as business news."

The first issue was successful with its ad and consumer sales, but its weakness was its editorial content. But with a heavyweight like Conde Nast behind it, it's hard to imagine those shortcomings won't be fixed as the magazine evolves, he notes.

"If you care about the business press, you want this to succeed," Starkman says. "There is a lot more at stake than the survival of the magazine; the industry is watching to see if Portfolio can set a new model for this medium."

Others see a grimmer picture.

"What they're missing is the incredible opportunities available to a magazine that can incorporate the Web into the fabric of its mission," says Adam Penenberg, a journalism professor at New York University, via e-mail. "But they have separate leadership and seemingly contrasting missions."

And Penenberg doesn't predict that the magazine will a make a lasting impression on the business press because it hasn't shown itself yet to be an industry leader.

"The Web site is stale and predictable - so anything they try has got to be more creative than what they've accomplished thus far," he adds.

Even so, the public might not be as forgiving. As print readership continues its dip, their attention is moving away from glossy covers - no matter how stylized and hyped.

This adds a new level of intrigue to Portfolio's journey. Can its New York-centric readership sustain its popularity, or can we expect broader outreach in future issues?

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