bloomberg without bloomberg
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THE MEDIA Bloomberg Without Bloomberg The industry may be retrenching, but Bloomberg News is expanding, bringing in big shots such as former Time Inc. chief Norman Pearlstine. As it looks to become the 21st centurys top news provider, its bizarrely scrappy cultureinstilled by Michael Bloomberg and editor Matthew Winklermay be written out of the story. by Seth Mnookin
The founder: Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, who created Bloomberg L.P. three decades ago.Photograph by Nigel Parry/CPi.
The last time Norman Pearlstine had a job in journalism, he spent his days across the street from Radio City Music Hall on the 34th floor of the Time-Life Building, a lofty realm he mockingly refers to as magazine heaven because mere mortals never get to breathe its rarefied air. As editor in chief of Time Inc., the largest magazine publisher in the country, Pearlstine oversaw a stable of 154 titles,
including Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, People, and Sports Illustrated. His office, with its leather couches and postcard-worthy city views, was larger than many studio apartments. Pearlstine, who was raised and educated in Philadelphia and its suburbs, has long been a major figure in the Manhattan media world. After graduating from Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal, and over the next quartercentury he ran the papers Asian edition, launched its European edition, and served as the managing editor and executive editor of the Journal itself. He pays careful attention to his attire, favoring English spread-collar dress shirts, eye-catching cuff links, and preening ties. Pearlstine remains, at 66, intensely competitive, and when he becomes particularly excited about a topic, his eyes bug out slightly from behind his glasses.
Michael Bloomberg answers the Proust Questionnaire.Illlustration by Risko. After retiring from Time Inc., in 2006, Pearlstine took a position at the global private-equity firm the Carlyle Group, but he didnt stay out of the game for long: last June he started a new job as the chief content officer at Bloomberg News. Bloomberg L.P.s headquarters are on Manhattans Upper East Side in a neighborhood that is at a distinct remove from the rectangular swatch of Midtown real estate thats home to the majority of the citys major media players. Instead of CNN, The New York Times, and the New York Post, Pearlstines new neighbors are Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Bloomingdales. The culture is as different as the locale: at Bloomberg, Pearlstine has to wear his corporate dog tags on a lanyard around his neck just to get through security. As a general rule, using elevators is against company policyMichael Bloomberg, the companys founder (now exploring a run for a third term as New York Citys mayor), feels elevators cut down on the type of human interactions that breed collaborative workso if Pearlstine wants to meet with someone on a different floor, he has to either take the stairs or hop on an escalator along with the hoi polloi. Gone is the private office; here, both of Pearlstines workstations are smaller, and have less privacy, than that of his former secretary. All of which is fine by him. As far as Pearlstine is concerned, what really differentiates Bloomberg News from all of the Establishment outlets hes been at in the past is the fact that it is still making money. I havent felt this energized in a long time, he told me on his second day in his new digs. I cant stress enough the excitement. The news that Pearlstine had taken the Bloomberg job prompted a rush of articles in the citys media pages. By bringing on one of the best-known members of the Old Guard, Bloomberg News got more attention than it had received in the 18 years since Michael Bloomberg created it after realizing that
his eponymous financial-information company had to start producing exclusive editorial content if it wanted to safeguard against an erosion of subscribers to its computer terminals. Even today, after a two-year period in which Mike Bloomberg flirted with a presidential run and in which secretive negotiations concerning a possible sale of his company valued it at upwards of $20 billion, very little is known about an operation with one of the largest editorial staffs in the world. (Bloomberg himself owns just about 90 percent of Bloomberg L.P. Based on recent valuations, its annual operating profit is estimated to be more than $1.5 billion.) Still, Pearlstines hiring seemed to prompt more snobbish curiosity than anything else. To wit: when asked about Pearlstines new job, Paul Steiger, who succeeded Pearlstine at the top of the Journals masthead in 1991, told the Times that Bloomberg News was not fundamentally a journalistic organization. The reaction among his former colleagues didnt surprise Pearlstine; in fact, before his job discussions began, he hadnt known all that much about his future employer, either. He hadnt known, for instance, that Bloomberg Newss 2,300-person staff is larger than the combined editorial operations of the Times and The Washington Post, or that included among its 135 bureaus are 30 in the Asia-Pacific region alone, or that Bloomberg had not so much been bucking the industry-wide trend toward contractions as obliterating it. While Pearlstines successor at Time Inc. has had to cut staff, Bloomberg News has added more than 300 in the past several years. A number of those have been high-profile defections from the decimated world of print media, including former Wall Street Journal Washington editor Al Hunt, formerPhiladelphia Inquirer executive editor Amanda Bennett, and former Time political columnist Margaret Carlson. This growth is likely to continue: company chairman Peter Grauer and president Dan Doctoroff, the two former investment bankers who run Bloomberg L.P., have been taking advantage of the retrenching in the rest of the print media by finding ways to fill the resultant voids. Today, 10 papers around the world, including the Spanish-language edition of The Miami Herald andTagesAnzeiger, the second-largest daily in Switzerland, run branded Bloomberg News pages on topics that these newspapers can no longer afford to cover. Over the past several years, as big-city dailies, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, have either killed off or dramatically cut the size of their book-review sections, Bloombergs arts division has expanded its culture coverage with an eye toward placing more of its content in daily newspapers. One of the countrys metro dailies is looking into outsourcing all of its health reporting to Bloomberg News as a way of meeting corporate-mandated budget cuts without decreasing its coverage areas. Finally, after years of what resembled a policy of institutionalized neglect, Bloombergs multi-media divisions are being beefed up in a major way. In October, the company hired Andrew Lack, the former president and chief operating officer of NBC, to run Bloombergs Internet and radio operations and its 11 television channels, based everywhere from Germany to Japan. Like Pearlstine, Lack had been enormously successfulhe transformed NBC News into the countrys highest-rated network news division in the 1990sand like Pearlstine, he jumped at the chance to join up with an organization that was focused on expanding its reach instead of stanching its losses. These ambitious efforts are in part driven by concerns about Bloombergs near-complete dependence on its terminals. While subscriptions are up around 8 percent over last year, the economic turmoil roiling the country does not augur well for the immediate future of any company that is so intimately entwined with the world of high finance. (Lehman Brothers alone had more than
3,000 subscribers, although some of those users will presumably end up with new jobs.) But diversifying also carries significant risks. By expanding its mandate, Bloomberg News is deviating from a mission that has proved to be so successful for so long: obsessively and single-mindedly providing content for the companys core customers. But for the moment at least, it looks as if were moving toward a world in which more people will get their information from Bloomberg News than from any other single source. That might sound fantastical, but if you had speculated in 1980 that in less than 25 years a bare-bones start-up launched by an unemployed, five-foot-six-inch Jewish man from Medford, Massachusetts, would supplant Dow Jones and Reuters as the worlds primary distributor of financial datawhich Bloomberg L.P. did in April 2004well, that would have sounded pretty fantastical, too. All of thisthe higher profile, the big-name hires, the active expansionshould represent a crowning achievement for Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg Newss volatile founding editor in chief. But its more complicated than that. In the last half-century, only a handful of visionaries could claim to have created a new journalistic paradigm through sheer force of will. Theres Hugh Hefners Playboy and Jann Wenners Rolling Stone.Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch gave birth to CNN and Fox News, respectively. Then theres Winkler and Bloomberg News. But while Wenners obsession with order and Turners mood swings are well documented, very little is known about Winkler; when the citys boldfaced columns do acknowledge him, its usually to chronicle his abusive tirades or to mock his penchant for bow ties (or both). Since Pearlstine, who had given Winkler his first big break back in 1982, was hired, the top echelon at Bloomberg has consistently maintained that Winkler would remain the person running the show. By this fall, despite the companys protestations, that pretense had been all but dropped: in July, three months before Lacks arrival, Winkler lost control of Bloomberg Newss multi-media operation. (The company-wide meeting about those changes was set to the Beatles song Revolution.) Then