Thursday, October 4, 2007

The late James Michaels, and his impact as longtime editor at Forbes

Today's New York Times contained an obit of James Michaels, a longtime Forbes editor.

The article, available at, contained some interesting observations about how Michaels reshaped Forbes' editorial voice. And while I had heard many of them (and more), I think it's worthwhile to hear them again because Michaels' philosophy is ingrained in the Forbes culture.
  • He made Forbes opinionated, interpretive and often indecorous, a magazine that was staunchly pro-business (and, its critics said, pro-wealthy) but did not hesitate to skewer companies and executives it saw as failures.
  • He often refused to permit articles on topics that other publications had covered, no matter how appealing or important, insisting that his staff find good stories ahead of the competition.
  • He strove to make articles shorter and more blunt, with a more clearly stated point of view.
  • He belittled the “on the other hand” kind of balance so many publications strive for as mere wishy-washiness.
  • Former reporters and editors recall weekly story meetings as a trial by fire, when anyone with a proposal had to be ready to fend off a barrage of harsh questions from the editor.
"Mr. Michaels embraced a rough image of the magazine, and himself. When an editor of the rival Fortune magazine was quoted as saying of Forbes, 'They’re nasty, venal people,' Mr. Michaels pinned the quotation to his office wall, and said, 'I just thought it was terrific.'”

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