The Cover Story, Done Right

<I>Business Week's</I> Google piece does a good job fighting a common pratfall for such stories.
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"Is

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

Too Powerful?"

The words jumped out at me from the cover of the current

Business Week

, and not because The Business Press Maven thinks Google definitely is.

I just think magazine cover stories have a weird way of being, well, too powerful. As in: Way.

The media -- and not just the business media -- has this well-documented (or totally coincidental -- take your pick, I soon will) knack for calling someone's high point, their peak in the public eye, if inadvertently.

It's called the

Time

or

Newsweek

jinx -- or the

Time

/

Newsweek

curse in the case of Howard Dean, whose presidential campaign tumbled into shouted oblivion not so long after he prematurely appeared simultaneously on both covers, a newly anointed presidential force. But one magazine cover's force is the next magazine cover's farce. Take the Chicago Cubs, for example, because perhaps the most famous curse around is the

Sports Illustrated

jinx. The moment a player or team appears on the cover declared as powerful or a potential champion -- well, faster than you can say Steve Bartman -- they're toast.

Why does this seem to happen? The Business Press Maven, who remembers

a Carly Fiorina cover story in

Business Week

that started with a lead about her "silver tongue" and "iron will," and ran soon before

Hewlett-Packard's

(HPQ) - Get Report

business started tanking, sees it as more than coincidence. As in: Way.

After all, to pump sales, magazines generally have to go with widely recognized concepts and images. But what is widely recognized in the most recent past (good for magazine people) is not necessarily what will be widely recognized in the near future (good for investors). But going too far out into the future (good for investors) gets a little conceptual and risky (bad for magazine people).

And in terms of being publicly recognized on splashy covers, well, maybe people who read their own press (which Carly and Howard were famous for) get a little overconfident.

Pride, you see, has this weird little way of going before a fall.

All of this is highly unscientific, of course, but so is investing.

Interestingly enough,

Business Week

seems to be anticipating the crime they only appear to be committing.

Business Week

does utter those famous last words for a magazine subject -- the claim that Google has "come to represent all our hopes, dreams and fears..." (And here I thought The Business Press Maven did that.)

But to their credit,

Business Week

makes it clear in the sub-headline that tougher times might be coming: "As the Web giant tears through media, software, and telecom, rivals fear its growing influence. Now they're fighting back."

Which is the point, of course.

Everyone guns for a popularly declared winner, that competitor who, unlike you, is being powdered for their magazine pin-up.

And our economic system -- even more than our baseball or political system -- allows for such gunning.

Read the story, it's pretty good.

After opening with a Twilight Zone-influenced take on Google's ultimate power and framing the company's current market value as more than

Viacom

(VIA) - Get Report

,

Time Warner

(TWX)

,

CBS

,

Publicis

(PUB) - Get Report

,

The New York Times

(NYT) - Get Report

-- everyone but a player to be named later -- the article gets to the point, a quite sharp one, in fact.

In short, everyone is fighting back. But

Business Week

is fair. They don't get into the knee jerk assumption that customers automatically hate a big business. Because while journalists often do, the same is not true of most customers, the only ones who matter to a business in the long-run. For skirting this common transgression,

Business Week

gets The Business Press Maven's coveted "Nod of Approval" award. There is little evidence, they note, that users give three hoots about Google's power. Where there is evidence, they add, it is the product of sour grapes or corporate politics.

All in all, a good job by

Business Week

fighting against the cover story prototype they only appear to be following.

But a word to the wise: If you own Google, realize that this is still a Powerful Moment Cover Story. Contact a local jinx master to have them lift the curse as a precaution.

Speaking of magazine covers, for all of you out there who read

Vanity Fair

(the grand total should be somewhere between two and four), you might have noticed that it's been thick with ads lately?

Notice anything else?

Good. Because neither should any sane-minded soul.

Which brings us to

Brandweek

and The Business Press Maven's dreaded "Back of the Hand" award.

Brandweek

actually took up magazine space this week to run a story called

"Vanity Fair Ad Pages Predict Stock Slumps." I guess it was a slightly wry take on a study they do refer to, with what I suppose is a nod and a wink, as "highly scientific." But I don't want to hear even lame jokes about concepts when there are only three samples given and when -- most importantly -- drops of several hundred points on a base of thousands are taken as the definition of a crash. That, alone, makes me want to crash.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;

click here

to send him an email.