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Archive for March, 2011

Snakebit!

I’ve been a subscriber to Newsweek for several years now, and had been an occasional reader years before that.  In the past two years, there have been two redesigns of the venerable but struggling newsmagazine.  The latest, which debuted last week to poor reviews, came after Newsweek was sold off and then ignominiously merged with the (also struggling) Daily Beast website.

As I began reading the “new Newsweek”, I did a little tangential exploration on my iPod Touch as to what it was all about.  It seems a high profile editor in chief, Tina Brown, was tapped to replace the departed Jon Meacham, raising expectations in some quarters.  On the other hand, some observers noted that the last time Ms. Brown was given a big magazine to run, a decade ago, her Talk magazine (launched among great fanfare on the cusp of the millennium) went belly up after two years.

Meanwhile, there are others who see print magazines as a dead industry generally, due mostly to competition from the Web.  It seems generally understood that the “last big magazine launch” (ever, it is implied) was Portfolio, rolled out in 2007 by Conde Nast (where I worked briefly in its ’90s heyday) and it, like Talk, folded within a couple years, taking with it $125 million or more from the company’s coffers.  Here’s where I ran into a remarkable coincidence, which also serves as an illustration of the limitations of print magazines, which is fundamentally what spurred me to write this post.

Portfolio was helmed by Joanne Lipman, who like Brown had been feted as a wunderkind who had a track record of breathing new life into stodgy old journalistic institutions (in Brown’s case, the New Yorker; in Lipman’s, the Wall Street Journal).  It appears (as far as I can discover) that Lipman has been “between jobs” (other than serving on charitable boards) since Portfolio went under.  Thus, her appearance in the premiere issue of Tina Brown’s Newsweek redesign, would appear to announce the next phase of her career, as a business columnist.

I don’t know the relationship between Brown and Lipman, but it’s easy to imagine that Brown feels a sympathetic kinship for Lipman given the similarities in their having both started massively expensive magazines for Conde Nast and both having failed so spectacularly.  Brown is getting another chance, and in so doing, she is providing one (of a more modest proportion) for Lipman.  All well and good, except for the terribly unfortunate intervening of events.

For you see, this eagerly awaited issue of Newsweek, Brown’s first at the helm and containing Lipman’s column, arrived in my mailbox on Friday, March 11 (although I personally didn’t read most of it until a few days later).  March 11, of course, was the day the massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan.  So, sure, right off the bat this highlighted the inherent “old-newsiness” of a print magazine, arriving in people’s hands just as everyone’s attention was focused on the disaster in Japan, which of course was nowhere addressed in the magazine.  But that’s just garden variety bad luck (I’m sure they were hoping for a couple of slow news days between sending the issue to printers and its arrival at subscribers’ homes).  The bad luck Lipman got in launching her columnist career was truly epic.

For you see, Lipman’s column was about–wait for it–nuclear power.  I’ll quote some choice bits, which are technically her characterisation of the views of Anne Lauvergeon, the French nuclear energy titan she is profiling, but make no mistake–Lipman does not hide the fact that she’s solidly in Lauvergeon’s corner:

“[N]uclear’s next big global moment has arrived…”

(Well, yeah–I guess you could say that.)

“If Lauvergeon is correct that now is a turning point, the timing couldn’t be better for her.”

(Euuuhhhh…I think you misspelled “worse”.)

“Bombs, missiles, commercial airplane crashes, terrorism, whatever happens, you will have no leak on the air or in the ground.”

I won’t take a cheap shot against the “one of her major pushes has been in the Middle East” line, as cringe-inducing as it is, since she goes on to insist that “she won’t do business with regimes she considers unstable. ‘Nuclear is made for countries that are stable,’ where it can be ‘managed in a rational way … that doesn’t mean a democratic way, but with some rationality,’ she says.”  So, does that mean geologically stable?  I guess not, as she lauds “major expansion into the U.S., China, Japan…” Oops.

Fish in a barrel, really.  I just marvel at the rotten luck in her first impression to readers here (most of whom will not have done the research I did and will not know her from Eve).  Brown and Lipman seem like smart, interesting women, and I’d hate to see them fall on their faces yet again–so I hope they will find greener pastures this week and in weeks to come.

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