Bloomberg News EIC on reporters having access to proprietary data: ‘The error is inexcusable’

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“Our reporters should not have access to any data considered proprietary,” Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief Matthew Winkler writes in an editorial published Sunday night. “I am sorry they did. The error is inexcusable.”

The editorial follows a weekend of increasingly bad news for Bloomberg, beginning with the revelation, first published in the New York Post last Thursday night, that Goldman Sachs had complained about Bloomberg News reporters using terminal data “to keep tabs on some employees.”

“Although we have long made limited customer relationship data available to our journalists, we realize this was a mistake,” Bloomberg L.P. CEO and President Daniel L. Doctoroff wrote in a blog post Friday.

BuzzFeed’s Peter Lauria reported Saturday Bloomberg executives knew about the snooping in 2011, when Bloomberg TV anchor Erik Schatzker mentioned the practice on-air. He says the data available to reporters was not as useful for newsgathering as it was for planning: “Bloomberg reporters can see the aggregate number of readers for a specific story, but cannot identify the individual readers.”

Indeed, not unlike at some other digital media companies, sources said half of the annual bonus for Bloomberg reporters is based in part on story views, so seeing which stories are gaining traction among readers is valuable in helping reporters determine what to chase. According to the former newsroom source, reporters pitch a lot of what Bloomberg calls “people movers” stories (i.e., a Morgan Stanley banker being hired by UBS) because they get a lot of traction among clients.

Steve Liesman reported on CNBC Saturday that the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department were looking into whether Bloomberg reporters had tracked “top officials” at those departments. A former Bloomberg employee told Liesman “that he accessed usage information of the company’s data terminals of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.”

Bloomberg did an internal review following Schatzker’s 2011 remarks, Amy Chozick reports in The New York Times. Company brass “thought the terminal functions that allowed reporters to see subscriber data had been disabled, said one person briefed on the review,” Chozick writes. But, she reports, “several former employees said that training included informal tips on how to use a function called UUID to locate sources who were also subscribers.”

The sheer amount of data available on the terminals created a dynamic in the Bloomberg newsroom in which some reporters favored breaking news over strict subscriber confidentiality, former reporters said.

Zach Seward writes in Quartz that the snooping “points to a tension between Bloomberg’s culture of openness and its intense secrecy to the outside world. At Bloomberg, transparency only goes as far as the door. To the rest of the world, the privately held company is more black box than fish bowl.”

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