LIKE NOBODY’S BUSINESS: Just a few months ago, the business category seemed packed in mothballs. Ad pages across titles were scarce. Fast Company and Inc. had trouble finding a buyer, even at a price that was less than 10 percent of what they collectively fetched in 2000. And rarely did one hear phrases like, “I just read in Fortune…” or “Did you see in Business Week…” over media lunches at Michael’s in New York.

But since Condé Nast Publications Inc. announced it would be entering the category with a megabudget magazine and Web launch in 2007, overseen by editor in chief Joanne Lipman and group president and publisher David Carey, the business sector has been undergoing something of a renaissance.

Today, Elizabeth Spiers, the first writer for Gawker.com, launches Dealbreaker.com, a site meant to re-create what she describes as the “chatter one might hear at a Wall Street cocktail party.” Her site follows Deal Book, the financial blog launched several weeks ago by The New York Times. Both sites are aiming to galvanize the same audience Condé Nast is apparently angling for, which has some business editors wondering whether Condé Nast is going to be late to the game by the time it finally rolls out its offerings some time next year.

Indeed, the Condé Nast title has, from the start, been discussed partly as a lifestyle approach to the business world, and there are already signs that other titles in the set are shifting to occupy that space before the magazine reaches newsstands. Business Week recently poached Forbes’ lifestyle editor, Charles Dubow, and evidently will do more soft consumer coverage. Fortune, for its part, is bringing in the editors of sister title In Style to produce a 24-page insert for the May 29 “Future of Hollywood” issue. The section will include an eight-page feature on entertainment industry decision-makers, said Charla Lawhon, In Style’s managing editor. “It’s fun for us because we know these people behind the scenes, but we usually don’t get a chance to cover them,” she said.

Timing isn’t the only worry expressed by close observers of the Condé Nast project. Several people who’ve had casual conversations with Lipman about potential jobs at the new magazine walked away confused. “I just couldn’t understand what they were trying to do,” said one. For instance, while business executives at Condé Nast have evidently been suggesting the Web component of the project would likely break news, Lipman has been referencing it as more of a companion site to the magazine, with “little nuggets” posted throughout the day. (To be fair, a spokeswoman for the title said Lipman has been purposely vague in early meetings and she is not yet ready to unveil her ideas.)

This story first appeared in the March 29, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

According to one editor who’s interviewed there, editorial director Tom Wallace and Meg Gruppo in the company’s HR department have been suggesting candidates with lifestyle, entertainment, Web (including Spiers) and — here’s a shocker — glossy magazine experience to Lipman, but so far, the bulk of her edit hires have come from the business pages of newspapers. (The latest is Amy Stevens, former editor of the Weekend Journal at The Wall Street Journal, who will be a codeputy editor.)

So who should be dusting off their résumés: ink-stained beat reporters or glossy magazine writers?

“I’ve heard this thing described as a cross between certain sections of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Fortune,” said one business editor who has been monitoring its progress. “I was a fan of the Friday section [at the Journal, launched by Lipman]. I was not a big fan of Personal Journal…I’ve never really thought that [long-form journalism] was her strength.”
Sara James and Jeff Bercovici

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