Tuesday, November 17, 2009

At Bloomberg, Modest Strategy to Rule the World



Michael R. Bloomberg, right, with Matthew Winkler in 1991. Mr. Winkler has overseen the Bloomberg news operation from its beginning.


The New York Times - PLOPPED in a white leather chair in a small office in Bloomberg L.P.’s Manhattan headquarters, Andrew Lack knows exactly how to articulate the aspirations of this 28-year-old media and technology company.
“We want to be the world’s most influential news organization,” says Mr. Lack, who oversees Bloomberg’s television, radio and dot-com endeavors.
Very clear. The most influential. On the planet.
It’s a goal several other Bloomberg executives have already mentioned to a pair of visitors. And when Mr. Lack, 62, a former head of NBC News, hears his guests wonder if something funny is in his company’s coffee — a special sauce that keeps all Bloombergians marching so efficiently and effectively to the same tune — he looks a tad chagrined.
“Oh, my! I don’t want to sound as if I’m on message,” he says, laughing apprehensively while also sending a “help me” look to a Bloomberg spokeswoman nearby.
These days, truth be told, the entire company is on message. That’s because the data behemoth that Michael R. Bloomberg created and named after himself in 1981, long before he became mayor of New York, finally has the reach, resources and appetites to try snaring the mantle of Most Influential — at least in the rarefied world of business news.
After years of being an underdog pushing its troops to be better and faster, Bloomberg now has an upper hand. Publishing giants like Condé Nast, Time Inc. and The New York Times, with their veteran scribes and rich histories, have laid off people and scaled back. Bloomberg may lack the pedigree and gloss of some of its rivals, but it has one thing they don’t right now: money to throw around.
This year alone, Bloomberg, deploying the cash spouting from its data business, has recruited refugees from The Wall Street Journal and Fortune and opened bureaus in places like Ecuador and Abu Dhabi. Its editorial staff (which includes radio, TV and Web site workers) now numbers 2,200, compared with 1,250 journalists at The Times and 1,900 at Dow Jones (a figure that includes the newswires and the Journal staff).
When the 80-year-old BusinessWeek went on the block, Bloomberg opened its wallet and snatched it away from circling private equity firms in October for just $5 million in cash — a relatively small sum that still represents a big change. For the last decade, Bloomberg has barely bothered to venture outside the realm of high finance; its news was produced to help subscribers to its terminals make more money for themselves.
With BusinessWeek, likely to be renamed Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the company is setting its sights on a much broader audience. That includes Main Street readers and, much more important for Bloomberg, senior executives, government leaders and other global movers and shakers. It’s also trying to revamp its Web site and television programming — long neglected inside the company — into services that appeal to people who don’t trade securities for a living.
At a time when most media companies can barely pay for cake at going-away parties, Bloomberg appears to be rolling in dough.

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