Media critic Lambert leaving the Rake for Mpls.St.Paul

Come Monday, the magazine that heralds the 50 Top Plastic Surgeons will also feature the slicing and dicing of Brian Lambert.

Lambert, the dean of online media critics (he’s been doing it since December 2006), is moving from The Rake to Mpls.St.Paul magazine as of Dec. 3. It’s a big media deal because Lambert is a franchise player in the local online world where even glossies know they must stake a claim to the future. “Lambert to the Slaughter” is usually the top-read thing on the Rake’s site — and a stiff jolt of scoop for a title that is often anything but a must-read. Second, Lambert’s blunt-yet-stylish disemboweling of various local media poohbahs may herald a new, more aggressive era for the fat, profitable and oft-cautious MSP. (Disclaimer: I also write for MSP, though you never know after this post.)

Lambert, who was a freelancer at the Rake, gets a considerable salary bump to become an MSP staff editor. His job breaks down into thirds: one part editing the City Limits blurbs in the front of the magazine, one part writing features, and one part media blogging, possibly with recent writing partner and Strib ex-pat Deborah Rybak. While not disclosing his pay — “now why would I tell you that?” — he relented to say he’ll be making more than he did at the Pioneer Press, who pushed him out the door in January 2005 by turning his media beat into a suburban one.

Lambert leaves with no similar vitriol for Rake publisher Tom Bartel, a guy who loves to mix it up and micromanage it. “I enjoyed the guy — no complaints,” Lambert says. “My only regret, and I suspect it’s one we share, is that it didn’t work out on the magazine side,” where he had trouble getting features into the print pages.

For his part, Bartel quips, “they offered him at least twice what he was worth” — that’s Tom in a nutshell. “MSP never had an original thought of their own, so they decided to go after him.”

Retracting the rapier, Bartel adds simply, “They offered him a lot of money and more work than we had, so I told him he should take it.”

Bartel says Lambert’s inability to get into the magazine was due to a long backlog of features (couldn’t something be bumped?), adding that Lambert will have a long piece in the Rake’s January issue. Bartel acknowledges “Lambert to the Slaughter” was one of the web site’s top draws, but notes “he had a very loyal group of readers who would come and read his stuff and then leave [the site]. There was not a lot of sell-through.”

Does the Rake make money?
For months, rumors have burbled that the Rake is unprofitable and Bartel will dump the print version and go web-only. “Well, it’s been discussed, but I don’t know if it’s realistic,” he says. “All of our revenue is in print. Of course, all the cost side is in print.”

Is the Rake profitable? “I don’t think that’s anybody’s business,” Bartel replies.

No one has similar doubts about MSP’s haul, and Lambert says the magazine’s sizable staff may allow him to add features to his blog, such as video. (“I won’t miss the four-a-day support calls,” Bartel says. “Brian — and I don’t think he would deny this — is not the most tech-savvy guy out there.”)

The biggest fear for Slaughter fans is when MSP gets over the thrill of the conquest, they’ll get cold feet and dull Lambert’s blade. Lambert says he has no explicit assurances that his style will be honored at MSP, but reports that editor Brian Anderson “didn’t see any problem with anything I’d written.” Lambert says the MSP honchos view their web site as a less-ruly beast than the magazine, which it had better be if MSP wants to truly broaden its reach.

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