The Wall Street Journal's glossy "Modern Wealth"-themed magazine WSJ is debuting September 6. Just in time for your curiosity to have been thoroughly piqued by the smartified explorations into fashion and luxury commissioned to fill up the heaving style issues of the New Yorker and New York, T Magazine and Vanity Fair! Here's what we know: there are 51 advertisers, 19 of which are new to Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal. And here's what we hear: Buzz in the newsroom is that the content, penned by a mix of staff reporters and freelancers, is "very disappointing"* — save for an apparently hilarious piece by veteran retail reporter Ellen Byron. Hey, suggestion!I don't know what Byron's piece is about, but: the cool thing about covering the luxury and consumer goods industry for the Journal is that the whole nature of the relationship between reporters and the companies that they cover is predicated upon the notion that said companies want to look good to their investors. Which is generally the exact opposite of trying to look good to customers! Essentially that means that the Journal is the one venue in which you will regularly find executives being forced to roll the "curtain" and say, "Here is our ingenious strategy for scamming people this quarter!" Or: "Isn't it amazing how when you put a giant logo over everything suddenly it's like, a Veblen Good?" Etc. etc. etc.
Perhaps there could be a great glossy magazine to be compiled from the observations and interactions and amusing existential outtakes of Journal Media & Marketing section reporters that don't fit into the paper's more traditional, Street-focused vision? Of course, giving reporters an outlet to write longer, more thoughtful stories is adamantly not the point of newspaper weekend magazines.* I mean, the Times Magazine sometimes serves that purpose, but it launched in 1896. T, which launched four years ago, is the model now! And unlike the Sunday newspaper magazines that have folded in the past twenty-odd years— here's a list — T is profitable. Too bad it is so boring to read! (Although, maybe you are not supposed to read it?)
Anyway, by the T model, WSJ editor-in-chief Tina Gaudoin and co. now has to go courting the same companies that regularly line up to embarrass themselves in the name of investor relations in the regular print Journal. Luxury goods advertisements, which make up 10% of the Times' ad revenue (and that doesn't include retailers) are still a fairly rare sight in the pages of the Journal, not because Journal readers think conspicuous consumption is tacky — far from it! — but because the newspaper, despite its new Saturday edition (even though it is where you'll find Peggy Noonan's invariably awesome column), is something most advertisers still assume most readers get and read — and leave — at work.*** But here's the thing: it is a horrible, retarded — or as a Fitch analyst recently paraphrased Confucius, "interesting" — time to launch such a magazine. Because we are basically in the jaws of a terrible recession, don't you read the Wall Street Journal? Spending is down, ad pages will be worse, the Journal does not exactly have any "first mover advantage" here, and by "industry metrics" (ad pages, extravagant launch parties, "buzz" etc.) this magazine is kind of doomed to "failure." That could make for an opportunity though! The Journal is, from a talent and institutional knowledge perspective, capable of making a good, funny, readable version of T — just by committing to the kind of magazine its reporters might actually read. Which is not to say stories about options back-dating or the exploitation of immigrant labor or executive suite power struggles; that's why they have a daily newspaper so you can read those stories in the morning and then short the stock during the day duh! But richly-reported stories like this or even this or the collection that created this book — stories that rely not only on the Journal's matchless access to captains of industry**** but a long-waning commitment to nuance and humor and the seemingly superfluous but telling detail (and um, length) — would get better play in a lifestyle magazine format. And Gaudoin should fight for them, even (especially!) if they stand to piss off potential advertisers, because they're precisely the sort of stories a reader wants to take home. And when Dolce and Balenciaga and LVMH decide to ramp up their marketing budgets again, that is something they will care about.
*Though having been part of a chronically-disappointed Journal staff five years ago it is good to know they're still capable of disappointment! **Incidentally, the Journal's vaunted "Weekend Journal" section helmed by Joanne Lipman — the gig that won Lipman the job launching the highly underwhelming Conde Nast business monthly Portfolio— was, while an advertiser success, an outlet for which most reporters I knew positively dreaded writing. These days they are probably a little less picky. ***Whereas a "lifestyle magazine" is something people put in the rack next to the toilet where they see the ads again and again, much like those posters in bar bathrooms from which you learned that people forget 80% of what they learn everyday. ****Aka terrible rich people.
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