November 17, 2016

Even one of the world’s richest men can get tired of losing money.

That is very much the reality behind the abrupt dismissal of Ellen Pollock as editor of Bloomberg Buinsessweek magazine and her replacement by Megan Murphy, the Bloomberg Washington bureau chief, according to two well-informed sources who declined to be identified.

Michael Bloomberg, the founder of the financial news goliath, had spent many millions of dollars to revive Businessweek. He did so amid a disastrous downturn in the print advertising market that’s humbled most magazines.

After purchasing it, those running the company while Bloomberg was New York City mayor hired Josh Tyrangiel, a journalist and savvy multi-media practioner from Time Inc. Editorially, he revived the magazine (and not because he had me writing columns on policy for a brief period).

Editorially, it was a “hot book,” in the industry parlance, due to Tryangiel’s imagination, nerve and the impressive journalism talent assembled at Bloomberg upon which he could rely. His work was so self-evidently impressive, it brought him a promotion to chief content officer as he still ran the magazine.

But the magazine was also tonally at a distinct distance from the rest of the hugely successful Bloomberg empire. It was opinionated and edgy. I can attest, even in writing a weekly column, Tyrangiel was a responsibly provocative editor. Pollock continued in that impressive mold, but it was also one at odds with much of the drier, just-the-facts portfolio of Bloomberg.

Mike Bloomberg’s own return to the company on a day-to-day basis after his third and final mayoral term has brought much change. Several top people left, including Tyrangiel, now a top executive at Vice who also oversees Vice’s new 30-minute evening newscast on HBO.

Sources on each side of the magazine vs. corporate divide that led to the firing of Pollock, an A-list and assertive editor, essentially say the same thing: Mike Bloomberg was getting bored and frustrated and two other top executives, Justin Smith and John Micklethwait, had their separate reasons for being discontent with the magazine.

In different ways, those included lack of control over the publication and just not liking the hassles of its inherent long-term ambiguity, according to sources familiar with the separate views of Smith and Micklethwait.

The company line is that it will be relaunched next year, but the specifics are quite obviously far from clear.

“We are convinced that we can embark on an exciting new phase in BBW’s storied 87 year old history—by transforming both its editorial mission and its business model,” wrote Smith and Micklethwait to staff. “We hope to do that not just in print, but on the web, in a daily App and through live events.”

In fact, it’s likely the death knell for the publication. Yes, it will be back, with the frequency reduced. That’s often a losing gambit and a precursor to a final obituary. Even before the change in frequency, much of its staff will be reassigned to the main newsroom, according to two sources.

It’s also all a reminder of frictions running throughout Bloomberg for years and years, involving debates about the sort of content they should be producing.

Mike Bloomberg himself prefers market-moving news and data that is of pragmatic use to those who spend more than $20,000 a year for his financial terminal.

That’s made certain parts of his giant universe outliers. They include the magazine and the problem-plagued Washington bureau, which will now see a revolving door continue to spin as Wes Kosova replaces Murphy, who is said to have left few footprints journalistically in the bureau.

So the magazine will be revamped dramatically as Bloomberg makes a strategically defensible decision to go in a different direction.

It was to be outlined to staff at a meeting in the Bloomberg United Nations room Thursday afternoon. Given the inherently high-minded but untidy dispute-filled essence of the room’s organizational namesake, it’s probably a fitting locale.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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