WSJ vet joins Conde Nast to launch Portfolio

After landing the highest post ever held by a woman at the Wall Street Journal, Joanne Lipman did the unthinkable: She left.

“I was hesitant because it was my first and only job,” she says of her 22-year run at the venerable daily, which she exited in October 2005 as deputy managing editor. Nevertheless, Lipman, 45, leapt to Conde Nast to launch its first business title, Portfolio.

“I always envisioned myself as a magazine writer,” she says. Nowadays, as editor-in-chief of a glossy, she oversees a stable of thoroughbred writers (including Tom Wolfe) and editors whom she hand-poached from the New York Times, New York Observer and even her alma mater. “I went kicking and screaming into editing, but I can be more effective behind the scenes,” she notes.

During the process of putting out the 332-page premiere issue this past April, Lipman learned that the curtains never seemed to close at Conde Nast. Portfolio was scrutinized from every story assignment to punctuation point by other media outlets. She learned to “roll with it and keep focused.”

Skeptics have focused on the fact that circulation and ad pages are flat for competing mags like Forbes and Fortune, but Lipman doesn’t worry. She sees Portfolio — think Vanity Fair with hedge-fund managers in lieu of Angelina and Brad — as a unique entry.

She calls the consequent dearth of “in-depth, narrative business journalism” the “white space” Portfolio intends to fill.

“Magazines are trying to keep up with newspapers, which are rushing to keep up with the Internet,” she says. “As a result, business coverage has become narrower at a time when business is actually having a broader impact on our lives.”

Vocation: “When I am filling out forms in the doctor’s office, I am a journalist. When someone asks me what I do at a cocktail party, I tell them that I am editor-in-chief of a new magazine.”

Role model: “My dad, who was an executive.”

Recent breakthrough: “Putting out the first issue of Portfolio.”

Career mantra: “An editor once told me, ‘Make a decision and stick with it.’ It works. Everything can proceed from there.”

What’s next: Come September, the mag goes monthly. “It will be hectic,” she concedes. “But it’s so thrilling to see the issue rolling off the presses.”

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