Upon first glance at the November 14 Forbes, I thought I'd unwittingly been transported back into the dank netherworld that was 2003. And what a forbidding time it was: Toby Keith was setting the nation aflame with redneck tunesmithery, The Red Sox were removing pinstriped boots from their derrieres, and technology, business and lifestyle publications were foisting "blogs might be worse than Communism!" cover stories upon an unsuspecting and often indifferent public.

Alas, a closer inspection of the November 14 Forbes revealed that I hadn't been sucked into a time/space continuum, but rather that the individuals responsible for the mag's cover choices have temporarily misplaced their marbles. Another "Attack of the Blogs" story? Two years after the little-guy-bloggers-versus-big-guy-corporations angle had been beaten with a shovel and left for dead? Surely Forbes had uncovered some new tactical approaches, or perhaps stumbled upon a piece of research that cast the tussle in a new light, right?

Nope. Forbes, in one of the more egregious lapses by an A-list publication I've seen since being entrusted with this merry little column, has devoted eight pages to yesterday's news and, in so doing, has essentially committed credibility hara-kiri. It is mind-blowing that, in November 2005, a publication to which the world's business leaders regularly turn for advice is proferring suggestions like "monitor the blogosphere" and "start your own blog." I have no issues with the story itself--like everything in Forbes, it is meticulously researched and elegantly written--but the expiration date on that particular milk carton was late 2003, so to speak. If somebody can explain this astonishingly reactionary editorial decision, feel free to shoot me a note care of this space.

So aside from that, Mr. Dobrow, how'd you enjoy the show? Actually, I quite liked most of the November 14 issue, thanks. Forbes does its best work when it aims high, rather than when it attempts to flesh out trends first chronicled in the Wall Street Journal's marketing section. So you can skip the issue's requisite inside-Google piece (the mag concludes that lots of smart people work there--I know, I can't believe it, either) and the advertiser-baiting "Gadgets We Love" feature (imagine how much magazine design folks must now loathe the task of presenting the iPod in a fresh and artful manner), and turn straight to a trio of meatier stories on considerably less buzzed-about topics.

The best of the three relates the tale of a US entrepreneur who ran afoul of a technology supplier owned by the Chinese government, which has since detained him without charging him criminally. Offering a compelling narrative arc and a nuanced depiction of China's shadowy business and legal climates, the story works as both potboiler and cautionary tale. Nearly as intriguing (and original) are the look at how marketers like Pepsi are tapping reactions within virtual-world games like SimCity for real-world insights, and a visit with a University of Wisconsin researcher attempting to create a precise map of a fly's brain.

I also admire Forbes' willingness--bordering on eagerness--to present personalities central to its stories in quite the unflattering light. The feature on visual-effects house Digital Domain entertains the possibility that the firm's current prexy might be obnoxious, slightly bonkers or both, while the mag suggests any number of motives, few charitable, that might drive the head of Intellectual Ventures (he declined to be interviewed for the story).

As for the magazine's design, it doesn't look like it has evolved much since... well, 2003. So in the end, I'm not really sure what to make of Forbes. It remains one of the magazine world's venerable titles and all, but I don't recall Fortune or BusinessWeek having whiffed on a cover story in recent years. Until Forbes stops chasing after already-established trends with the blind zeal of a non-housebroken puppy, it'll remain firmly ensconced in third place in the category it once defined.

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