The Bloomberg Juggernaut
While many news organizations are struggling and retreating, Bloomberg News keeps adding talented journalists, expanding its empire and elevating its ambitions. Posted: Tue, March 1, 2011
By Jodi Enda
Senior contributing writer Jodi Enda (email@example.com) has written about Politico, changes in campaign coverage in the age of Twitter and Bloomberg News in recent issues of AJR.
At Bloomberg News, extraneous words are discouraged. Copy is straightforward, without language that hedges, such as "but," "however" or "despite." Adjectives are shunned. Adverbs, too. The edict is to get to the point.
The company's driving goal is equally forthright. Stunning both for its simplicity and its downright audacity, it is repeated -- frequently and almost word for word -- by top editors and reporters alike: "We want to be the world's most influential news organization."
At a time when most news organizations are hemorrhaging money and staff, closing bureaus, reducing coverage and lowering expectations, Bloomberg is spending, hiring, opening new outposts, launching fresh enterprises and raising the stakes. It's as if someone forgot to tell the honchos in Bloomberg's eye-popping New York enclave -- a futuristic glass palace replete with fresh orchids, exotic fish, free food, custom artwork, even a curved escalator -- that the journalism world is in the midst of financial turmoil. Odd for an organization built around and financed by its ability to provide information to the world's most powerful investors, an organization that prides itself on moving markets and that rewards its reporters for doing so.
Then again, Bloomberg News is nothing if not odd, not odd-peculiar (though there is a bit of that) so much as odd-different, odd-singular, odd-completely-out-of-the-ordinary. At every turn, it has defied expectations.
Consider that it was founded as a way to provide context to the data on "The Bloomberg," an innovative terminal devised to provide investors with essential, reliable, up to the minute information that would help them make money. Consider that the terminal was conceived by a Harvard MBA who had just been fired from his job as a partner in a Wall Street firm. Consider that a news operation that began just 21 years ago with a young, market-savvy editor and a handful of relatively inexperienced reporters has mushroomed into a behemoth that employs 2,300 journalists in 146 bureaus and 72 countries. Consider that their work now feeds not only the terminal -- which remains the center of the Bloomberg universe -- but also two free Web sites, three subscription-only Web sites, a weekly magazine, a monthly magazine, a global television network, a U.S. radio station, a wire service, subscription-only news-letters and a syndicate that provides news to 420 publications in more than 60 countries.
Consider that Bloomberg, far from contracting like so many media outlets, continues to embark on new ventures, including Bloomberg Government, a Web site aimed at Washington policymakers, politicians and lobbyists; Bloomberg Law, a site for lawyers; and Bloomberg View, a foray into the world of opinion writing. And that it is expanding its coverage of the world's wealthiest people. And opening new bureaus in statehouses and big cities around the country in an effort to capitalize on the rapid withdrawal of newspapers from those meaty beats.
And consider that the fired Wall Street partner, Michael Bloomberg, now is in his third term as mayor of New York City; that he is reported by Forbes magazine to be worth $18 billion, making him the 10th wealthiest person in America and the richest politician, and that, as a result of his financial success, he reduced his city paycheck to just $1 a year and often rides the subway to work.
The unusual nature of Bloomberg L.P. doesn't end there: The man at the helm of the news outfit, Matthew Winkler, sports bow ties, reveres Dr. Seuss and occasionally displays a temper that has become fodder for a ravenous blogosphere; neither he nor the president nor anyone else in the hierarchy has an office; walls in the Lexington Avenue headquarters -- with the welcome exception of those in and surrounding the bathrooms -- are made of clear or colored glass; employees can be tracked by a plethora of cameras, identification scanners, fingerprint devices and computer keyboards (though no one will say if they are). Every summer, Bloomberg L.P., the umbrella company for the terminal and news operations, takes over Randall's Island in New York's East River for a blowout picnic complete with carousels and Ferris wheels, miniature golf, sushi, barbecue, palm readers, clowns and tiki bars, and in the winter it encourages employees to take a few hours off work to do community service.
It's all mind-bogglingly Bloombergian (an unacceptable Bloomberg sentence, to be sure).
Oh, they have their own language, these Bloombergians do. They follow "The Bloomberg Way," a 361-page set of directives that lays down Bloomberg News principles and strictures, from the requisite accuracy and fairness to writing standards to ethics rules.
Leads are to be four paragraphs long.
Headlines are to be written first.
"Show" with facts and anecdotes, "don't tell" with characterizations and labels.
Mistakes must be corrected, pronto. Proper credit must be given to competitors.
Bloomberg News is defined by what Winkler, the editor-in-chief, has deemed the "Five Fs": factual word, first word, fastest word, final word and future word. It produces news for the people "who have the most at stake," primarily the 300,000 big-money players who pay $20,000 a year for "The Bloomberg." To speak to these affluent and highly educated stakeholders, every story must include something on the relationship between markets, the economy, government, politics and companies -- the "Five Easy Pieces."
At once bizarre and rigid, Bloomberg News is easy to poke fun at, and plenty of journalists inside and outside its transparent walls do.
But there's at least one factor that sets Bloomberg News apart from the pack, something no one in the business is laughing at:
It's hiring! Journalists!! And paying them very well!!!
Unbound by the financial constraints that have hobbled or killed media organizations nationwide and armed with reporters and editors who emigrated from many of the best newsrooms in the world, Bloomberg is doing one more thing of note:
It is producing lots of first-rate journalism.
A little time spent in Bloomberg's New York and Washington offices helps to explain the mindset of the people who work there.
In some ways, they are much like the best newsrooms used to be (and sometimes still are): bustling, lively, exciting places where scoops are celebrated, teamwork is essential and desks are peopled with reporters and editors who share a mission to be the best. In other ways, they are different from any newsroom I've worked in or visited. Nothing about these places is subtle. There are a lot of bells and whistles -- oversized, in your face artwork, such as a giant titanium thundercloud that hangs between two floors; dazzling fish swimming in imposing tanks; and large, multicolored light boards flashing news, weather and financial updates from around the world.
But the physical is merely a manifestation of the psychological. From Winkler on down, the journalists at Bloomberg work hard, think big and dream bigger. They are unfettered by financial restrictions. They practically gloat about their ability to travel the world, spending time and treasure to pursue good stories.
And that thing about becoming the most influential news outlet in the world? They truly do embrace it.
"That ambition really appeals to me," says Jonathan Kaufman, a team leader in charge of education coverage. "It's hard to find a place with as much ambition, and they back it up with resources."
Kaufman joined Bloomberg in 2009, part of a migration of reporters and editors from the Wall Street Journal. In fact, one of the striking things about Bloomberg's roster is the vast array of journalists who formerly worked not only at the Journal but at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune, to name just a handful. And Kaufman is one of several with "Pulitzer Prize winner" in his bio.
When Bloomberg bought BusinessWeek in late 2009 and hired Josh Tyrangiel to be its editor, the New York Times wrote that he had been "an heir apparent at Time magazine." Tyrangiel, formerly deputy managing editor at the newsweekly, waves off the description. But he does say he switched magazines because Bloomberg offered "an opportunity to be very aggressive and grow" whereas Time was "rightfully happy with where they were."
"The hunger and competitiveness at Bloomberg are really attractive to me," Tyrangiel tells me in a phone interview from Davos, Switzerland, where he is at the World Economic Forum. "I don't just wake up in the morning thinking I want to do a great job. I want to win! This is a company where that is baked into the DNA."
Even the few people I talk to who haven't entirely bought into "The Bloomberg Way" say they are excited about the future there. They like the energy of the place. They like the direction in which it's moving. They might disdain some of the internal machinations of Bloomberg News -- the nonstop demands, the lack of flexibility, the paranoia they say emanates from on high -- but they appreciate the sense of possibility even more.
"There is nothing but a genuine and impressively driven desire for great stories. That's what they promised when they hired me, and I haven't seen anything else," says one reporter, who asks not to be identified by name, job or location because he has not been granted permission to talk to me. "There is a zeal to get great stories."
The buzz about Bloomberg News has grown considerably over the years, and not merely because it is one of the few media outlets that continued hiring during the recession. Once viewed as something of an afterthought by job-seeking journalists, it has gained a level of respectability in the eyes of journalists and newsmakers alike. Many Bloomberg editors remind me that when Winkler started to build the operation in 1990, the Standing Committee of Correspondents that oversees the Senate Press Gallery refused to give his reporters the credentials they needed to gain access to Congress. Bloomberg reporter Jim Rowley now holds a coveted seat on that committee.
As an indication of how quickly the landscape has shifted, Al Hunt, Bloomberg's executive editor for Washington, tells me, "I couldn't get the Bush White House to return calls. We have had three one-on-ones with President Obama. The change is dramatic."
Hunt recalls with a chuckle that after he left the Wall Street Journal for Bloomberg in December 2004, he'd run into acquaintances on the street and they would almost uniformly "look at their shoes and ask me what happened," as if they were embarrassed on his behalf. Now, he says, many of those same people are calling, either in search of jobs or to pitch stories.
Hunt, a fixture in Washington journalism and political circles, seems to be just as taken with the Bloomberg goals as his younger colleagues. "I've never seen a more ambitious place," he says. "Every day pulsates with ambition. Maybe that's the Journal circa the 1980s." He smiles broadly.
Bloomberg's Washington news bureau boasts an editorial staff of 265 -- with 30 more on the way this year, says Norman Pearlstine, chief content officer for Bloomberg L.P. and chairman of Bloomberg Businessweek. Like Hunt, Pearlstine, formerly managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and editor in chief of Time Inc., compares the trajectory of Bloomberg News to that of the Journal decades earlier. Listen to him talk about the response to his announcement that he had accepted a job at the Journal in 1968.
"When I told my friends at the New York Times that I was quitting my job as a copy boy to go to Dallas to work for the Wall Street Journal, they said, 'Why would you want to do that? Who reads the Journal?' "
Similarly, Pearlstine remembers a conversation in 1989, when Winkler left the Journal to create a news report that would not appear in a newspaper, but on an electronic terminal read by a small, elite group of investors. (In those days, it was unimaginable that the "printed" word would not actually appear in print.)
"When he went off to start the news service, I said to him, 'Who would want to work for Bloomberg News?' " Pearlstine says.
"It turns out we all do."
Ed Chen left. Lots of people have.
Formerly a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, Chen was working in the Washington press office of the Natural Resources Defense Council when Hunt called him in December 2006. He wanted Chen to return to journalism to cover what was shaping up to be a historic presidential race (at that point, Hillary Clinton was considered the Democratic front-runner).
The campaign was not the only draw for Chen. He wanted to make a little history of his own by becoming the first minority elected to be president of the White House Correspondents' Association, a position that proffers a certain amount of national visibility and prestige. So he took a seat in the bureau at 14th Street and New York Avenue, a few blocks from the White House, and learned to do things "The Bloomberg Way."
Chen praises Bloomberg editors and reporters as some of the best in journalism, but says he felt most of his own stories were "superficial and uninteresting and unchallenging" because the system places such a great premium on being first. "The editors have to explain why their stories were tardier than AP or [Thomson] Reuters. There is great, great pressure," he says. It's a complaint I have heard from others.
To illustrate his point, Chen tells me about a shortcut he used to get out one story as quickly as possible. "Once I was in the back of Air Force One, on the ground, in the evening¡. Obama came back to the press cabin, which was very, very rare. Rather than taking notes and having him on my tape recorder, I pulled out my cell phone, speed dialed the hotline on my desk in Washington and held the cell phone up to Obama's chin -- and my editors listened and filed the story that way."
Chen doesn't blame Bloomberg so much as the 24/7 media culture that requires many White House correspondents (and other reporters) at newspapers and magazines not only to write stories for print but to produce and constantly update stories for the Web, to blog and to tweet. Yet he clearly didn't cotton to the demanding Bloomberg culture, including what he describes as "a lot of yelling" (though he makes clear that's not why he left).
"It is a very hardworking place. I felt -- and I think most people there felt -- like basically the company owns you. When something happens, there's no question that you'll be there, sometimes even when you're on vacation."
Bloomberg is known for providing free food from snack bars loaded with cereal, soup, bagels, chips, fruit, candy, nuts, soft drinks and all kinds of coffee drinks. It's a nice perk (one that causes more than a few new employees to put on what is known as the "Bloomberg 10," as in pounds), and, Chen says, "a great gathering spot for synergy, collaboration and serendipity." But, he adds, it's also a way to keep staffers close at hand, working.
After three-and-a-half years, Chen left in late June, just as he finished his term as White House Correspondents' Association president. He returned to his job as federal communications director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Oh, and about that gambit Chen used to file a story from Air Force One? It worked. Bloomberg, Chen notes, posted the story first.
The desks in Bloomberg newsrooms stand out because they are the only things that are, well, nothing special. They are not big or flashy, but plain, white and modular. They are pressed together, side by side, in long rows of five, often facing each other. Atop each desk sit four and sometimes six flat computer screens, some stacked two high, which allow the users to view "The Bloomberg," some Web sites and their own work simultaneously. Some desks also have small television screens; some have family photos or other mementos, such as a small Chick-fil-A cow that bears the message, "Eat Mor Chikin."
The journalists who work there have no privacy.
Matt Winkler is no exception. Like everyone else in Bloomberg L.P. -- in fact, like the mayor himself downtown in City Hall -- Winkler works in a sprawling room with scores of other people. If he or any other worker wants to have a private conversation, he must book one of the many glassed-in conference rooms scattered throughout the building. Each conference room is named for a city that contains Bloomberg terminals.
Winkler invites me into a small room near his work space. He sits in a black leather armchair backed by an orange glass wall and pulls a mobile keyboard into position. The Osaka Room, as it is called, is smaller than most of the conference rooms; it contains only a few other chairs, a loveseat and a large screen on the wall opposite Winkler.
We start by discussing the architecture of the U-shaped building, which takes up one square block of prime Manhattan real estate across the street from Bloomingdale's flagship 59th Street store and a few blocks from the 59th Street Bridge (of Simon and Garfunkel fame). Winkler likes the glass edifice and inner walls because they allow in an unusual amount of light.
"When you think about it, what you want in news organizations is light," he says. "You get a sense of transparency right away."
That's a big mantra among Bloombergians: transparency. They fight for it in the markets and in government. They sued the Federal Reserve for it. Nonetheless, they have traditionally been reluctant to talk about themselves. That seems to be changing, but not without a certain amount of apprehension.
Winkler often is caricatured in the press as a temperamental autocrat who runs a global sweatshop and straps journalists with golden handcuffs -- unusually high salaries and bonuses that make it hard to leave. Clearly, this is not the image the leader of a world-class organization wishes to have.
Nor is it the one he projects in our interview.
He is affable, charming, a tad self-effacing. He grins when I ask him why he wears bow ties, saying that no one has ever posed the question, then describes how he switched to them while reporting in London for the Wall Street Journal in the 1980s. Winkler, on this day sporting a blue bow tie with small red dots, says he found himself frequently dining with bankers and, well, spilling. By jettisoning long ties, he saved on dry cleaning.
He is proud of what he has built, of the many reporters and editors he has lured from prestigious newspapers and magazines. He is proud of the investigative reporting they have done. He is proud of the recognition they now get in the greater world of journalism, in the corridors of power in New York and Washington and among captains of industry and government around the world.
He talks a lot about "the people with the most at stake," the people at the heart of Bloomberg's mission. Mike Bloomberg created "The Bloomberg" to serve them some 30 years ago by providing timely information on the relative value of bonds. A decade later, he hired Winkler to set up a news operation that would give them added value by putting the data and analytics in context. Now, with thousands of employees and with revenue that neared $7 billion last year, the organization operates with the same core mission, Winkler says. Only the scope has changed.
"The people with the most at stake are demanding from us relative value about everything," he says. They devour not only financial news and data, but reports on health and science, politics and government, culture and even sports. Winkler reminds me that sports metaphors are ubiquitous in the world of business, where competition is intense.
"I'm a tennis enthusiast," he says. "If I wanted to know how Rafael Nadal did, I can go to the Bloomberg."
Which is exactly what Winkler does. He pulls the keyboard toward him and types in the name of the Spanish athlete. On the large screen above us appears news that, on this day, January 20, Nadal defeated American Ryan Sweeting in the Australian Open.
"We try to cover what our customers want," Winkler says. "And that's hard because they want pretty much everything."
Even when Bloomberg reporters cover sports, culture and other seemingly non-business topics, they don't stray far from business and finance, the primary (and fiduciary) interests of the "people with the most at stake." So the sports story in the monthly Bloomberg Markets magazine is about three former players for the San Francisco 49ers who formed a venture capital firm. "Our reporter deconstructed what turned out to be a monumental failure as a business," Winkler says.
The same is true within the burgeoning Washington bureau. "Government is, in one sense, an enormous, sprawling business," Winkler says. "The government has income, revenues, and leaves an enormous footprint on the economy."
Most Washington reporters cover politics as sport, "winners and losers, whether they're campaigning or legislating," he continues. "What is obscured by that is the impact of policymaking on markets, business, consumers."
And that's what Bloomberg is all about, really. Impact. Over and over during my time in company offices in New York and Washington, I hear talk of moving markets, of giving important people important information that they can use to make important -- and high-stakes -- decisions. Bloomberg News, Winkler bragged in a phone conversation before our face-to-face meeting, was the first engine that provided that information to customers in real time, starting, as it did, "four years before Netscape introduced the Internet to the world as we know it. Bloomberg, in its infancy in 1990, was already, for its customers, the Internet. It was providing in a real-time context all sorts of what-if scenarios that people who had the most at stake could act on."
Laurie Hays, who left her job as deputy managing editor at the Wall Street Journal to edit news about companies for Bloomberg, pulls up a keyboard on a conference room table to show me what happens when stories move the market. At 3:30 p.m. on this particular day, Bloomberg broke a story about a board shake-up at Hewlett-Packard. Within minutes, the graph on the flat screen indicates, the price of a share of HP stock shot up by about 59 cents. By day's end, it had moved from $46.32 to $46.78, reversing an earlier decline. Market-moving stories tend to appear on the Bloomberg terminal first, with some lag time before they're placed on a free Web site.
On February 1, stock in Borders Group Inc. tumbled 48 percent after Bloomberg reported that the bookstore company was preparing to file for bankruptcy.
"If you're a Bloomberg customer, you make a lot of money off our exclusive news," Hays tells me.
Because big people are making big decisions based on what Bloomberg tells them, Winkler has imposed particularly rigorous standards on his journalists. All reporters at all news outlets are supposed to get things right. Here, "accuracy, accuracy, accuracy" is a maxim. Mistakes cost customers money. One longtime reporter told me that failing to write a correction is a firing offense. "The Bloomberg Way," written by Winkler, says: "Every time we publish a mistake, we chip away at our credibility. That, in turn, can make it difficult to obtain the most credible sources and attract customers.
"While mistakes are inevitable, failure to correct the error¡.compromises our integrity."
It also costs Bloomberg's customers money, which, in turn, would cost Bloomberg L.P. money if people stopped subscribing to "The Bloomberg." That hasn't happened. Except for a small blip during the recession, when many of its customers lost their jobs (think Lehman Brothers), Bloomberg has shown a steady increase in subscribers. And revenue continued to climb even then, the company reports.
The high stakes and his own high ideals have caused Winkler to keep a tight hold on the news operation these two decades. He sets the standards, he sets the tone.
Sometimes, say people who work there, the tone is unpleasant, alarmingly so.
The Web site Gawker has made a habit of reporting on Winkler, whom it has described as "a bow-tied tyrant," "¨¹ber-strict" and "one of the angriest men in media." In 2008, the site posted a recording of Winkler, who was said to be yelling at a staffer who challenged his decision to fire a broadcast reporter for posting a financial headline too early.
I ask Winkler about his temper. He handles the query with aplomb -- and a certain amount of indirection.
"I don't believe anger is an effective way to manage," he says calmly. "I think you accomplish a lot more by figuring out how to inspire people¡. I like to think that the history of Bloomberg News to date shows that it's been an inspirational place.
"We're constantly changing -- here's hoping, for the better, me included."
There is no question that Bloomberg is changing. It is growing incessantly, just as so many other media outlets are contracting. Numbers tell part of the story: In 2008, Bloomberg employed 1,950 journalists. Now, it has 2,300, and plans to hire another 150 this year, says spokesman Ty Trippet.
Bloomberg bought BusinessWeek from McGraw-Hill in late 2009. That year, the magazine lost $60 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. But to Bloomberg, its value was immeasurable.
Daniel Doctoroff, president of Bloomberg L.P., explains that Bloomberg needed to broaden its audience beyond the narrow core of terminal subscribers. BusinessWeek brought in 4.6 million readers.
Bloomberg's cachet shot up, he says.
"Literally, the week after we bought BusinessWeek, we had CEOs who wouldn't give us an exclusive interview reaching out to us, not just in the United States, but around the world."
Likewise, Bloomberg has been augmenting its television and multimedia operations. In October 2008, the company hired Andrew R. Lack, a onetime NBC News president and former chairman of Sony Music, to lead the effort. When I talk to Lack, he has just returned from India, where he is working to make Bloomberg News more accessible on television and other platforms. That, essentially, is what he is doing around the world. Bloomberg TV, which is broadcast to 245 million homes worldwide, is the "most watched global English-language channel in Europe during the business day," Lack says. He adds that the next target is Asia.
One of the most notable changes that has occurred under Lack's leadership concerns Charlie Rose, the well-known TV interviewer whose program has long aired on PBS. In the fall of 2009, Bloomberg TV began rebroadcasting the show, which is taped in its studios in New York and Washington. "The arrangement marks one of Bloomberg's boldest steps yet to refashion its programming to better compete with CNBC and other channels," the New York Times reported at the time. During the recent uprising in Egypt, Bloomberg TV blanketed the airwaves with coverage from Cairo. And Charlie Rose was there.
Bloomberg's most recent venture, launched January 1, is Bloomberg Government. Subscribers pay $5,700 a year for access to bgov.com, home to an intimidating amount of information on government, politics and policy. The site focuses on six industries -- health care, defense, energy, technology, finance and transportation -- as well as trade, taxation and labor.
It posts original news stories by Bloomberg journalists and white papers written by experts hired onto the staff to assess the effect of government actions on the economy and corporate America. It tracks legislation and government contracting, displays government and corporate directories, reports how much money corporations contribute to politicians and which lawmakers benefit from specific industries. It allows users to find Congress members and staffers who are working on various issues. It includes detailed maps overlaying congressional districts with industries, demographics and the disbursement of government grants. You can pinpoint specific types of businesses to determine which Congress members have them in their districts. You can find out how a particular corporation responded to the State of the Union address.
The site is so comprehensive that Bloomberg provides training sessions to subscribers -- no matter where they are located.
"Our driving mission: What's the business impact of government action?" says Mike Riley, managing editor of Bloomberg Government and former editor of Congressional Quarterly. "Nobody's doing that the way we're doing that."
Bloomberg editors would not disclose how many people have subscribed to BGov so far, except to say that the number is in the thousands. Riley did say he has hired more than 100 journalists and analysts, and expects that number to grow to 150 by the end of the year. An equal number work to build, maintain and sell the Web site and to help customers navigate it.
The mission, says BGov reporter Alex Wayne, is clear and consistent with that of the rest of Bloomberg: "They say they want to beat everybody and they want to own the market for policy news and analysis," he says. "I like working for a company that has a killer instinct."
The next new venture will be Bloomberg View, the company's first stab at editorial writing. In December, Winkler hired two marquee names to run it: David Shipley, who had been deputy editorial page editor and op-ed editor of the New York Times, and former Assistant Secretary of State James P. Rubin.
Until now, Bloomberg News has distributed columns and op-eds, but no actual editorials representing the thoughts of an editorial board, nothing that reflects the Bloomberg position on issues. Why change? "We have an aspiration to be most influential, and we're conspicuous by the absence of any point of view," Winkler says.
In a late-January telephone interview on his third day on the job, Shipley tells me that he and Rubin have yet to iron out most of the details of Bloomberg View, such as how often and where editorials will run and who will write them. Both he and Winkler say the editorials will not be driven by ideology.
Shipley says he envisions a situation "whereby you really search for the best ideas from the left and the right, being solution-oriented and" -- like Bloomberg itself -- "being data driven."
"My hope," he says, "is that we're going to be just searching out the ideas and the politics that make the most sense and do the most to repair the world. But since we are creating a new form here or doing something that hasn't been done in this institution, we are remarkably unburdened in having to think in [terms of] left and right."
The announcement of the new undertaking was met with some skepticism in the broader media world because of the potential conflicts it raises between Bloomberg the journalism operation and Bloomberg the mayor (and possible presidential candidate), who owns a majority of the company. Indeed, when I ask Winkler about that, he says, "We don't want to write about ourselves" because it would be "an obvious conflict, real or imagined."
Bloomberg does cover the mayor as a news story. Henry Goldman, who works in a temporary press room in a trailer on the grounds of City Hall, tells me there are risks in covering his boss -- and in not covering him. "The question becomes how do you do it fairly and comprehensively."
Here, he says, "The Bloomberg Way" is helpful: "The Bloomberg style of avoiding adjectives, value-laden observations and insisting upon opposing points of view institutionalizes fairness in one's copy." Basically, Goldman says, he doesn't see himself as writing stories that are positive or negative about the mayor. He simply writes what Bloomberg does.
Shipley says of the potential conflict: "I think I would be an idiot not to be aware of it¡.as is everyone here, as is the mayor. I don't think anyone would do anything that disrupts the sanctity of anyone's job and the understanding of the mayor's relationship with this institution."
They call it the virtuous circle.
A virtuous circle, or virtuous cycle, is a beneficial series of events, each of which positively affects the next. Bloombergians view each piece of their enterprise as part of the virtuous circle.
Doctoroff, the president of Bloomberg L.P., elaborates: "The more readers and viewers of Bloomberg News we have, particularly among corporate executives and government officials who make business news, the more influence we have. The more influence we have, the more access we have to them. The more access we have, the more market-moving information we have. That helps us sell more Bloomberg terminals. The more we sell, the more we invest back into our news organization, creating this wonderful virtuous cycle that is unlike anyone else in any other news organization."
Bloomberg Businessweek (now without the capital "w") bolsters the virtuous circle. Its losses were halved in just one year and the magazine is expected to, eventually, turn a profit. Bloomberg TV and radio also expand the new audience. So does Bloomberg.com, which had 20 million unique visitors in December 2010, 43 percent more than February 2009.
All of these, along with new undertakings, are intended to make the terminal a more valuable commodity. In other words, they help to bring in money.
Herein lies a critical difference between Bloomberg and other media outlets.
A full 85 percent of the company's revenue comes from terminal subscriptions, 300,000 of them at about $1,667 a month. Less than half of the remaining 15 percent comes from news media operations, including advertising revenue and syndication. The financial imbalance explains both the supremacy of "The Bloomberg" and the company's ability to funnel so much money into journalism:
It does not rely heavily on advertising.
Nevertheless, Bloomberg executives have decided the news outlets should be able to stand on their own. Doctoroff, formerly New York's deputy mayor for economic development, has initiated "Plan B," a path to profitability for every piece of the Bloomberg puzzle.
Still, it is likely that the big money, the money that keeps that virtuous circle turning, will come from the thing that started it all: "The Bloomberg."
Journalists who are not part of Bloomberg aren't quite sure what to make of it. When I ask Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, to assess the impact of Bloomberg News, he responds: "The impact is they're making a lot of money." He says he can't speak to the company's journalism because he doesn't have a terminal.
"There were a lot of people saying if mainstream news-papers are pulling out of journalism, there's opportunity there," Rosenstiel says. "But Bloomberg had the resources to take advantage of it."
There are a lot of perks to working at Bloomberg. First, there's the constant access to free food and drinks, including healthy stuff like organic Cajun popcorn, fresh-ground organic peanut butter and hormone-free milk. (It's also environmentally conscious: The New York headquarters provides potato-based cutlery and cornstarch straws that, along with the plates and cups, go into compost bins.) Then there's that picnic and, in the winter, admission to the Big Apple Circus. Because the company contributes to the arts, employees enjoy free admission to New York's pricey museums. Once, a reporter told me, Bloomberg rented an entire theater at Lincoln Center and treated the staff to a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet.
And, of course, there's the money, legendary in journalism circles. No one would disclose his or her salary to me, but one former newspaper reporter told me his income rose about 25 percent when he went to Bloomberg. Staffers also receive annual bonuses and profit-sharing certificates, based in part on individual and group performance -- including scoops, market-moving stories and, on the flip side, corrections -- and in part on company revenue.
"We demand a hell of a lot from people. We want them to perform," says Chief of Staff Reto Gregori. "And if you want people to perform, you have to pay them accordingly."
The really big payoff -- the kind that is unheard of in an industry rife with layoffs, buyouts and furloughs -- could come in 2014. If the company meets its goal of $10 billion in revenue, each employee who has been at Bloomberg since the beginning of 2009 will receive a bonus of between 62-and-a-half percent and 70 percent of his or her salary, Doctoroff says.
Golden handcuffs? It depends upon whom you ask.
Although the stereotype is that Bloomberg News is a sweatshop, plenty of people -- reporters and editors who have been authorized to talk to me and those who have not -- tell me otherwise. Yes, they work hard, these journalists say. They are on the front lines from early morning -- many editors begin the day with a 7:30 a.m. meeting -- until night. But, these days, so do journalists at every newspaper, magazine and Web site.
And, yes, many of them have to write fast, short stories, the kind that Ed Chen grew weary of. Their counterparts at other outlets have to do that, too.
But because they have so many platforms, including Bloomberg Businessweek and Bloomberg Markets, a monthly magazine, as well as the Web sites, they also can write lengthy and hard-hitting stories that take time and resources to produce.
Amanda Bennett, a former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is executive editor for projects and investigations. She calls on Bloomberg reporters from around the globe to help with stories, Bennett says, like when they followed copper from Chile to homes in China.
Perhaps more important, Bennett says, is the support she has received from the top to pursue large projects. When she and reporter Mark Pittman approached Winkler in 2008 and announced that they wanted to sue the Federal Reserve to force it to disclose details about $2 trillion in emergency loans made during the financial crisis, his response was, "Great!" (Pittman, who won the prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for a 2007 series on the breakdown of the mortgage industry, died in 2009.)
Bloomberg editors are quick to point out a number of projects that have led to congressional hearings or government policy changes. Last year, an investigation by Bloomberg Markets concluded that more than 130 life insurance companies were "duping" the families of deceased soldiers, government workers and millions of other Americans by withholding interest earned on billions of dollars in death benefits. The New York Times ran a short version of the story, and the Washington Post ran nearly the entire piece on the front of its Sunday business section. A number of other outlets, including CBS and NPR, produced their own stories on the issue. In response, Andrew M. Cuomo, then New York's attorney general and now its governor, launched a fraud investigation. Other states' insurance departments followed suit. Congress held hearings. And, ultimately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs adopted new safeguards to protect benefits.
Kaufman, the education team leader, sent three reporters around the country during a year-long investigation into for-profit colleges. The resulting stories reported that for-profit colleges were a $30 billion a year business that reaped taxpayer money by making misleading promises to vulnerable populations, including disabled veterans, homeless people, immigrants and minorities. Bloomberg's 10 long narrative stories and 60 or 70 shorter ones led to Senate hearings and widespread coverage in many other outlets, including PBS' "Frontline."
"That is the kind of stuff that newspapers used to do a lot of," Kaufman says in a telephone interview from his base in Boston. "Not only are they not doing it anymore, but we're doing it with the kind of resources that certainly I've never had." I heard that sentiment repeatedly from Bloomberg reporters and editors, many of whom I have known for years. Their outlook was noticeably sunnier than that of most newspaper reporters I talk to these days.
"The question at Bloomberg is, 'What can we do?' and the question at most newspapers is, 'What can I do without?' " says Bloomberg's Washington bureau chief, Michael Tackett, a veteran of the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.
Adds Mike Dorning, the senior White House correspondent who left the Chicago Tribune for Bloomberg in August 2009: "It's nice to work for something where things are possible, where things are ambitious, where you think tomorrow might be better than today. It's hard to work for a place where people think tomorrow will be worse than today."
Traditional news outlets have been struggling to figure out how to make it to tomorrow, how to get out of bankruptcy or stave off more layoffs or finally make money off the Internet. Newspapers, as a rule, are not laying out grandiose plans for growth.
They are fighting to survive until tomorrow.
Bloomberg is fighting, too, not to survive, not even to thrive. Those appear to be givens. Remember the mission? Bloomberg is striving to increase its influence, its dominance as a news organization.
"It's sort of a breathtaking goal, isn't it?" says Clark Hoyt, a former public editor for the New York Times who now is an editor at large in Bloomberg's Washington bureau. "An inspiring goal."
The news outlet has come a long way in its first two decades. It has been on a trajectory that, by just about any measure, is impressive.
But can it become the most influential news organization in the world? The mere question reeks of hubris.
Or does it? Perhaps it is a way to move the goal forward, a way to prevent complacency from setting in.
"To be the best, you have to aspire to something that's beyond your immediate grasp," Winkler says. "If we really believe in excellence and we believe in making what we do here better than ever, the only way to achieve that outcome is to aspire to be the most influential."
Doctoroff cushions his ambition -- at least, a little bit. "I think in the intermediate term -- a few years -- our goal is to become the most influential provider of business and financial news, which is our core," he says. "And once we get there, we'll raise our sights further.
"It's just a question of time."###