Bloomberg Shakes Up Newsroom Side of His Company
By Ravi Somaiyan, The New York Times
- Jan. 26, 2015
Things have changed at Bloomberg since its founder, Michael R. Bloomberg, returned to the office.
Some of the changes are small. He had struggled to find the paper towel dispensers, artfully hidden behind the mirrors in the company bathrooms, so he had them labeled with arrows. Emails between staff members are marked with the time the employee entered the office, a measure that has been reinstated since Mr. Bloomberg returned and that some suspect is intended to encourage employees to arrive earlier (or to shame them for arriving late). In a memo, he asked his staff members to make sure their security cards do not cover their name badges so that he can identify them more easily.
Some of the changes are big. The company’s chief executive, Daniel L. Doctoroff, stepped down last year after it became clear that Mr. Bloomberg wanted to make his own decisions. Late last year the founder and longtime head of the news operation, Matthew Winkler, was moved aside and given an honorary title. He wasreplaced by John Micklethwait, the editor of The Economist. Mr. Bloomberg oversaw the process. Mr. Winkler’s deputy, Laurie Hays, once seen as his heir apparent, left shortly afterward.
When Mr. Bloomberg, 72, left New York’s City Hall nearly 13 months ago, some expected him to retreat to his philanthropy enterprises and devote himself full time to the social causes he has championed. Instead he has thrown himself into his news operation with vigor. His forceful assertion of the leadership there has shaken up the newsroom, nearly a dozen current and former members of the staff said in interviews, breaking old alliances and stalemates and creating uncertainty among employees as they try to carry out new initiatives and policies.
Mr. Bloomberg has changed plans, shifted strategies and looked deep into the organization to concern himself with the most minute policies and decisions, according to the current and former employees, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of talking about the former mayor’s leadership. To journalists, working under a man who is used to getting what he wants and whose name is on the building, he feels like a weather system, one former employee said — high up, uncontrollable and all-powerful.
The company declined to make Mr. Bloomberg or his senior media executives available for interviews. “Yes, he’s running the business,” said Marc LaVorgna, a Bloomberg spokesman. Mr. Bloomberg, he said, has “an ability to think globally and at the same time drill down into the details better than anyone.”
“It’s why he was successful in building and running this business, and why he was successful as mayor,” Mr. LaVorgna said.
He sits among colleagues on the fifth floor of Bloomberg L.P.’s offices on Lexington Avenue, the same area from which its television operations are run, and holds meetings near his desk. He takes Spanish lessons in a conference room.
Mr. Bloomberg, who was mayor of New York from 2002 to 2014, has never been a journalist, and the last time he ran his company its media operations were smaller. But he is fascinated with the power and potential of the media, those familiar with his thinking said.
In addition to attending some daily editorial meetings, he has smaller gatherings with senior executives, including Justin B. Smith, the chief executive of Bloomberg Media Group, who is spearheading a large-scale transformation of the company’s journalism, and Josh Tyrangiel, the editor of Businessweek magazine. Often the two emerge with new ideas or changes of direction after meeting with Mr. Bloomberg.
Mr. Bloomberg “is a complicated, brilliant man,” said Elisabeth DeMarse, who worked closely with him as head of marketing until the late 1990s. As the manager of a company, she said, he enjoys shaking things up. “He loves keeping people off-kilter,” she said. “He doesn’t let anyone get on too high of a horse.”
The media businesses, said a person familiar with their finances, are losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year for Bloomberg L.P., which gets the vast majority of more than $9 billion in annual revenue from its financial data terminals. Mr. Bloomberg aims to bring the media section’s losses under control, while ramping up the level of influence his company has in what he sees as a growth area.
He told senior editorial staff members at a conference in New York early in January that when he left to serve as mayor in 2002 his company had one news organization. When he returned, he said, it had 12, referring to separate teams for the news wire, television, radio, the web, the magazines and others. The inference some drew is that Mr. Micklethwait, who starts work next month, will be tasked with unifying them.
Mr. Bloomberg has been especially engaged with the revamping of his company’s television offerings, down to the finest details — he personally decided to kill the stock ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen, and introduced information boxes on the right side of the picture, several employees said. He has also reviewed a new business news website, which is seen as a crucial offering for the company’s core business audience. The introduction of that site, scheduled for last Tuesday, was delayed, though apparently for technical reasons.
Mr. Bloomberg, said two people with direct knowledge of the matter, is an avid consumer of the media. He has an iPhone 6 Plus, but largely uses its Bloomberg app, for everything including email. Among the publications he reads on his iPad Mini are The New York Post and The Economist.
When he was planning for life after City Hall, he was widely expected to devote time to the business of giving away a fortune that Forbes estimates at $35 billion. But some who knew him doubted he would be content to spend his days approving grant applications. He would “rather stick pins in his eyes,” one friend said. He was also told that the White House would support him as a candidate for president of the World Bank.
But in the end he returned to his company, slowly at first, while also traveling the world on a kind of valedictory tour. As the tour ended, he became more and more hands-on at Bloomberg L.P., the company he founded in 1982, particularly its media arm.
Though he has not publicly outlined a strategy for Bloomberg’s journalism, he has told friends that people are more likely to buy terminals if the company’s other media offerings are highly influential. Broader coverage will also have a reach beyond the terminals, and can draw in those, like chief executives at businesses outside of finance, who do not subscribe. Also, public figures are more likely to give news-making interviews to a general publication than to a financial wire service.
While he was at City Hall, the news division expanded to include ambitious news reporting and investigative projects, a strategy that has at times put the newsroom’s goals at odds with those of the business side — in China, for instance, which the company views as a huge growth market for its data services. Those tensions have not yet been resolved, said people familiar with internal discussions.
A range of new products, including a politics TV show and website headed by the political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, were part of a plan put into place by Mr. Smith, whom several people described as being accountable to Mr. Bloomberg for decisions taken before his return.
“Working for Mike,” said Ms. DeMarse, who is now chief executive of TheStreet, a financial media company, “is not for everyone. You have to be very smart; you have to have a high tolerance for ambiguity; you have to be flexible, because things change so quickly. The organization can be very fluid, and your authority in it has to be earned.”