Seems about time I step in with some thoughts on the demise of Portfolio. Truthfully, I have precious little in original thoughts to offer. While other print publications were clinging to their life vests by cutting costs and trying to transition to the web, CondeNast decided to invest in a product that would be even more print-y–longer form, glossier, costlier pages–than the incumbents in the business media market. Even though they had many smart writers, Portfolio was set up to fail.
At the other extreme, perhaps, are the media evangelists who seem a bit too excited by Portfolio’s collapse. It will all be fine, they tell us, because the citizen-activists are here to save the day. I will believe it when I see it.
But there is another reason to be sanguine about Portfolio. The collapse of the old media models, accelerated by this crisis, is beginning to spur some real innovation INSIDE old media on ways to merge with and absorb the best ideas from the newbies. Indeed, Sarah Lacy at TechCrunch says that’s the way to save Portfolio’s erstwhile competitors in the biz space: she proposes turning those organizations into full-time professional blogs, with the magazine as a weekly or monthly digest of the blog’s choice items, expanded out to article length, accompanied by the occasional long investigation or narrative. Is it just me, or is this the vertical structure I’ve been touting all along?
One of the benefits of such a structure would be the ability to use technology to add value to stories, instead of just for kicks or clicks. In other words, a professional blogger-journalist would ask themselves, “How does this story work best? As a blog post? As a slide show? As a video? As a long form piece? As a Flash animation? As a podcast?” and then be able to draw on all those technologies to deliver the best content possible. We’d have no more slideshows accompanying stories just to bump page-views, and no more long articles to convey quick info that fits best in a blog post. We’d also be able to nullify a major argument made by citizen-media activists–that they have a role to play because the old folks are incapable of, or unwilling to experiment with, harnessing new technology.
For a great example of how it might work, check out this slideshow from the BBC’s Robert Peston, noting that the Beeb is an old media institution with an integrated structure that now includes TV, Radio, online narrative/articles and blogs.