Bloomberg Without Bloomberg

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articles about michael bloomberg from vanityfair

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<p>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</p> <p>The founder: Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, who created Bloomberg L.P. three decades ago.Photograph by Nigel Parry/CPi.</p> <p>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,</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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</p> <p>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</p> <p>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, in September, the 52-year-old Winkler revealed that he was stepping back from a chunk of his responsibilities on the print side as well. A good part of my day, every day, when Im not on the road, has been in story meetings, he explained. There are at this point better ways for me to spend my time. According to Bloomberg L.P. spokeswoman Judith Czelusniak, all of these moves originated with Winkler himself. They are part of Matts own plan to reorganize the news department, she said. He wants to be more involved in training and passing on his wisdom to new staffers. He is doing more public speaking. If that sounds a bit like the hoary line about some fallen C.E.O. stepping aside to spend more time with his family, thats because in essence it is; in fact, it directly contradicted some of what Winkler had told me less than four months earlier, after I asked him how he and Pearlstine would divide their duties now that they were working together again. Winkler, sitting in the glass cube that serves as a semi-private meeting area behind his desk in the companys newsroom, told me that he would be happy even if he was doing nothing more than leading the daily news meetings and editing stories. I cant imagine *doing anything else+, he said. I live every day for the story. Its the one part of all this that really gets me excited. I go to bed thinking about the stories were going to have tomorrow, and I wake up wanting to see what they look like and what the reaction is. I love stories. Its as simple as that.</p> <p>The new face: Norman Pearlstine, named last May as the chief content officer of Bloomberg News. Photograph by Nigel Parry.</p> <p>Now it looks as if hes being written out of his own masterpiece. Regardless of peoples opinions of Winklerand over the years hes been called everything from ruthless to batshit insanetheres a certain poignancy to his current situation. Its almost as if Winkler, having led his people through the desert, is being told hes not allowed into the promised land. Bloomberg L.P.s horseshoe-shaped headquarters look and feel like a cross between the worlds of Terry Gilliams dystopian classic Brazil and Pixars Toy Story. Theres so much glass that it seems at times as if the only rooms without transparent walls are the restrooms. Upon entering the operations main floor, visitors are greeted by a BlackBerry-toting employeemore often than not a winsome young womanwho is wirelessly alerted by one of the security guards at the buildings entrance to every impending arrival. The walls are inlaid with fishtanks stocked with exotic, brightly colored species from around the world. Neon news zippers fight for attention with high-concept, ultra-modern art, including a chandelier programmed to blink out text by a Welsh Marxist writer, and an 11-by-16-foot titanium-alloy cloud, which is suspended from the ceiling. Every 10 minutes or</p> <p>so, a techno-inflected jingle rings out over a building-wide intercom, signifying that someone, somewhere, is being paged. This mandated whimsy obscures whats long been the companys ruling ethos: well provide you with everything you could ever need, which means you wont ever have to leave. Bloomberg L.P.s offices around the world offer free foodin New York there is everything from Cup-a-Soups and microwavable Chinese lunches to Rice Krispie Treats and Oreos. Emergency survival kits, complete with hand-cranked radios and gas masks, are located under every desk. There was a part of it I sort of liked, says one former employee, who requested anonymity because he writes finance-themed books and has appeared on Bloomberg Radio as part of his promotional tours. The mentality is that, if youre there, youll get taken care of. Thats part Orwellian and part paternalism. The free junk food was great, he said, but it was there to keep us from going out for coffee. This approach is also reflected in what has been Bloomberg Newss sui generis business model. Virtually every print outlet makes its money through some combination of single-copy sales, subscriptions, and advertising. Now, with consumers less willing to pay for content, and advertisers migrating to the Web, that old-school approach is looking less viable with every passing day. Bloomberg News doesnt run ads, and it doesnt charge its customers for contentat least not directly. The four million stories it runs every year are fed directly to the companys 290,000 terminal users as part of the only subscription option Bloomberg offers, an all-you-can-eat package that caters to the international financial community by featuring the companys ever growing array of data and proprietary analytics. Historically, the news divisions worth has derived from the notion that every new story represents another morsel of added value to its customers, and nowhere is upto-the-minute knowledge more powerful than in a world in which a one-cent change in a securitys price can result in billions of dollars in profitsor losses. (Bloomberg News also functions as a more traditional wire serv...</p>