Bloomberg EIC outlines editorial vision in wake of cuts

September 1, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

After a day of layoffs that claimed dozens of journalists from the ranks of Bloomberg’s massive reporting and editing corps, Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait called the departures a painful necessity intended on making the company stronger.

“It always hurts to let talented, dedicated people go, and no journalist likes to tell other journalists that they are losing their jobs,” Micklethwait wrote in a memo to staffers. “But this is not about downsizing; it is about refocusing our considerable resources. We are committed to changing Bloomberg Editorial in significant ways, and I think this is the time to lay out in more detail the course we are now set upon.”

In the memo, which was obtained by Poynter, Micklethwait reiterated a previously articulated desire to build Bloomberg’s editorial team around core tenets, including speed, relevance, convenience and analysis.

“Our purpose is to be the definitive ‘chronicle of capitalism’ – to capture everything that matters in global business and finance,” Micklethwait wrote. “That does not mean that we will restrict ourselves to markets and economics any more than Adam Smith did. But it does mean that we should concentrate our firepower on the area where every Bloomberg customer – whether it is a television viewer in Baltimore, a terminal user in Berlin or a Web user in Bangalore – expects us to be the definitive chroniclers.”

Micklethwait’s memo comes hours after many veteran reporters and managers at Bloomberg, many of whom were at the upper end of the newsroom pay scale, were laid off. They will all exit with three weeks pay for each year served, which will be paid out over the coming months.

The moves represent a major shock to many at Bloomberg, which has built a global financial news operation based around a proprietary terminal business that has at least 315,000 subscribers. It also represents one of the most significant convulsions to hit the outlet since billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg returned to run the business he founded late last year.

The cuts represent an effort by the financial news colossus to refocus its priorities more sharply around coverage areas including power, business, finance, markets, technology and economics. Although journalists throughout Bloomberg’s sprawling operation were targeted, particular attention was paid Tuesday to the layoffs in Washington, where an estimated dozen positions were eliminated. The layoffs, which come after months of tumultuous relations between Bloomberg’s D.C. bureau and its New York office, have been read as a sign of decreasing editorial ambitions in Washington.

Here’s a partial list of the journalists affected. Many of the names were reported earlier Tuesday by the New York Post and include some of Bloomberg’s most respected reporters and editors:

  • Dawn Kopecki, a senior writer, who wrote a searing internal memo on the Washington bureau itself, which she characterized as essentially dysfunctional, leaderless and overstaffed. That memo, which claimed the bureau was beset by “a climate of fear,” angered Bloomberg’s hierarchy in New York.
  • Mark McQuillan, an editor at large seen as one of the most talented editors in the Washington bureau. Considered creative, diligent and thorough, he also oversaw the bureau’s Supreme Court coverage, which has been an internal source of pride.
  • David Lynch and Peter Gosselin, two of the most experienced and talented economic writers in Washington.
  • John Walcott, the national security team leader, is one of Washington’s most knowledgeable analysts of national and global intelligence matters. He’s also a former Washington bureau chief for McClatchy Co. and Knight Ridder, as well as a high-ranking editor at U.S. News & World Report and the national security correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
  • Terry Atlas, a veteran editor and writer, was formerly a foreign affairs standout with the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.
  • Indira Lakshmanan, a seasoned foreign correspondent, covered foreign affairs from Washington including at the State Department and has been a multimedia presence.
  • Mark Rohner, a longtime employee who has always had the reputation of being a supreme company loyalist and fulfilled an array of tasks. “It’s sort of like firing the Maytag man,” said one Bloomberg insider.
  • Ken Fireman, manager of government news outside the US; Gail DeGeorge, an economics editor; and Carter Dougherty, a financial writer.
  • David Lerman, a talented general assignment reporter and deadline reporter.

The ongoing reorientation underway at Bloomberg was spurred in part by the return of its founder. His arrival has also brought several marquee departures at the company, including that of Web overseer Joshua Topolsky and senior executive editor Laurie Hays.

When founding Editor-in-Chief Matthew Winkler, a close Bloomberg confidante, retired last year, Micklethwait was hired away from The Economist as his replacement.

Since his appointment, Micklethwait has sought to hone the newsroom’s efforts to emphasize breaking financial news, the company’s bread and butter. Some of those moves have prompted some internal qualms that certain reporting on government and politics is being de-emphazied precisely because it can’t be as easily monetized as financial news.

Here’s Micklethwait’s full memo:

To All Bloomberg Editorial & Research,

When I came here at the end of February, I said that I would “listen, learn and lead”. Since then I have tried to visit as many offices and to listen to as many of you as possible – and I’ve learned a great deal, mainly about the enormous potential of Bloomberg when we work together (my last stop was in Athens, where journalists from all our platforms have combined to run the competition ragged). We start from a position of enormous strength, thanks to the leadership of Matt Winkler, the support of Mike Bloomberg and the hard work of many of you.

In terms of “leading”, we have already made a lot of changes over the past six months: many of you report to different people or sit at different desks. However, today’s re-organization is bigger – and friends and colleagues have lost their jobs. It always hurts to let talented, dedicated people go, and no journalist likes to tell other journalists that they are losing their jobs. But this is not about downsizing; it is about refocusing our considerable resources. We are committed to changing Bloomberg Editorial in significant ways, and I think this is the time to lay out in more detail the course we are now set upon. It is guided by three big ideas – what we want to be, who we are trying to serve and how we should be organized.

1. Our purpose: the Chronicle of Capitalism

Every editorial organization needs a purpose. After many years of expansion, we are keeping our headcount flat over the next year – a far more generous starting point than that facing our competitors, but still one that means we have to make choices. I believe that having a focus is good for both our customers and our journalism. The clever, busy clients we attract across all our platforms don’t expect us to know everything about everything, especially when we have so many specialist rivals. Our customers value expertise and excellence, and so should we. Vibrant journalism, whether it is on the terminal, the web, print, radio or television, needs a core – an area where we excel, partly because we believe in it and understand it better than our competitors do.

Our purpose is to be the definitive “chronicle of capitalism” – to capture everything that matters in global business and finance. That does not mean that we will restrict ourselves to markets and economics any more than Adam Smith did. But it does mean that we should concentrate our firepower on the area where every Bloomberg customer – whether it is a television viewer in Baltimore, a terminal user in Berlin or a Web user in Bangalore – expects us to be the definitive chroniclers.

That is why, from very early on, I have talked about building on six pillars: business, finance, markets, economics, technology and power (politics and government). It is also why this week we decided to end our sports and education coverage as we’ve known it. Although we have published some great stories, people don’t turn to us first for news on schools or baseball. We need to put the resources into our new fast commentary team (“Bloomberg Gadfly”), our custom morning briefing (“Daybreak”), more data journalism, increased social media monitoring, our new markets TV show, our global radio network and better coverage of venture capital, market structure and campaign finance. If you come up with a good story on La Liga or want to do a podcast on Saudi Arabian schools, by all means pitch it: there is no ban on writing about non-core subjects. But there is a higher barrier of interest for such stories to jump over, and the expectations for quality will be set extremely high as well.

Some of you may worry that chronicling capitalism means singing the praises of Mammon or boosting individual moneymakers. Not at all. Our job is to expose financiers’ mistakes and vanities, to probe into imperfect markets and to point to potential speculative bubbles – not least because that is exactly the information that our readers, viewers and listeners need to do their jobs. We will continue to expand our team of investigative journalists and expose the way in which individual capitalists twist regulation in their favor. Bloomberg Gadfly will sting as well as buzz. Part of our strength comes from our independence; that is why Editorial is separate from the rest of Bloomberg’s businesses and also why we have introduced and enforced consistent editorial standards across all our platforms.

So we are not slavish boosters of every form of capitalism. However, I still think that one way we can distinguish ourselves (and, frankly always have) is by our passion for business, finance and markets. So if you are not intrigued by how people make money, or are inclined to sneer at those who are good at it, or yearn to practice “gotcha journalism” on investment bankers simply because they’ve chosen to be bankers, Bloomberg is probably the wrong place for you.

If that is our mission, how are we doing? Many parts of Bloomberg Editorial & Research excel; that is the reason why terminal readership is rising, why the website had record traffic last week and why we’ve grown while other media outfits have withered. If most of the things we do pass the fundamental test of good journalism: people will pay for it. But we can still do better. That brings me to our two other guiding ideas: focusing our content on what our customers need; and modernizing our organization.

2. Our target: the clever customer who is short of time

Too often, we produce content that serves us rather better than it does the people who are paying to read it (or giving up a portion of their day to watch it or listen to it). Although our customers come from many different fields, virtually all of them share a common concern: their time is precious. Nothing annoys them more than our wasting that time – by giving them things they don’t want or by hiding the things they do want in the depths of the terminal or our website. They have a plethora of other sources of information to choose from, and when we’re out of step with their needs they vote with their eyes.

One of my first crusades at Bloomberg was to cut back on lengthy self-indulgent stories. I have nothing against enterprise pieces – it is my own hinterland, and one of the best pieces we have done since I arrived is our longest-ever story (Businessweek’s 38,000 word essay on Code). But too many of our long stories failed to engage or seduce the reader – and our customers, especially on the terminal, never ventured beyond the second screen. Since then, we have tried to improve the quality by introducing editing hubs and limiting the number of editors who can commission long stories. We will look for ways to discard even more “boiler plate” – for instance by making more use of Bloomberg Intelligence’s excellent company primers which we are releasing to clients this month.

Cutting out the things that our customers don’t want is essential. But what exactly is it that they do want? Good journalism is both the glib and the fundamental answer to that question – and I will come back to that. But I think five attributes matter a lot to our customers: speed; relevance; convenient formats; design; and explanation/analysis.

Speed. Everybody loves it when we break news – which is why we will continue to invest in investigative journalism, the Speed Desk and our deals team. But at the bare minimum, our customers want us to keep them up to date (the first role of a chronicle is to tell you what has happened). Speed is especially crucial on the terminal: hence the arrival of our automation czar and our reinvestment in automating technology for table extraction and web scraping. Looking forward, we should use technology to help us be speedy across a much broader range of stories – to alert us when a bond has moved by a certain percentage or a director has sold a certain number of shares. We are expanding our social media monitoring group to provide faster headline news from Twitter and elsewhere. We also need to embrace technology that will make us nimbler and more cooperative – for instance, setting up internal chatrooms so that reporters from Markets, First Word and the Web who cover the same company, event or commodity can work together.

Relevance. Ideally, our customers want their news to be optimized for them: hence the importance of customization to “Daybreak”. Most people in a trading room reach Bloomberg stories through alerts, rather than through TOP, so we need to tag our stories correctly. On the web, almost 70% of our visitors now come directly to article pages through social media or search engines, rather than the homepage. And on television ever more people are using video-on-demand to watch shows like “With All Due Respect” whenever they choose. We need to work with the commercial side to make sure our stories reach people. More generally, our customers want us to write and speak about the capitalism of today not yesterday. Bloomberg is still too focused on developed markets, established finance and the Western world (especially America). By contrast capitalism is moving to private markets and the emerging world. To chronicle it, we must follow it: hence our plans to build up both our Asian and venture capital teams.

Convenience. Our customers want to read what we write in their own language (hence our embrace of translation and also of translation software as it gets more sophisticated) and they plainly like some formats more than others. First Word is a fantastic way of getting information quickly, so we should look for clever ways to use it (such as the “campaign tracker” on the soon-to-be-released revision to the Politics website). Our new TOPLive service, where customers can follow one news event with charts, analysis and headlines, is off to a great start. However, when it comes to delivering stories conveniently, our biggest sin is one of omission: data journalism. We have the best data in the world and, across all of our platforms, customers love it when we tell a story graphically. We need to build up Wes Kosova’s team of interactive and storytelling specialists, but most data journalism can be done by all of us – our new COPY system allows us to embed charts in the text, the new terminal Chart system looks much cleaner, training in Toaster is available to all and we will look for ways to brand our graphics on television and the web.

Across all our platforms, we need to work much harder on design: too often at the
moment it gets in the way of our customers. We have just updated our homepage, we
will soon unveil a new look for U.S. television and we will improve the look of our
magazines and Briefs. One of the biggest challenges of the terminal is that too many
of our end users still don’t understand how to get the best out of it. And if nobody
can find your story you might as well not have written it.

Analysis. If telling you what has happened is the first role of a chronicle, explaining why it did is the second. A computer can tell a customer that a bond yield has risen, but his or her next question will be “why?” It is essential that we work harder to own stories – following up on the news with our unique expertise. We have to be part of the debate about capitalism, not just a scorer. Bloomberg Gadfly will join that debate, where we already have Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg View, Bloomberg Intelligence and First Word. Even on television and radio, the main job of our presenters is increasingly to explain why the numbers around the screen are changing.

So there are plenty of things that we need to improve in order to reward our customers for the time they spend with us. But in the end the glib answer really is the fundamental one. Good journalism – finding stories and telling them well – is the heart of it. A computer could not have broken the news that Pearson wanted to sell the Financial Times, nor persuaded millions of people to click on the Businessweek story about Code. It cannot question Hillary Clinton about emails, let alone become Stephanie Ruhle or Tom Keene. Creating high quality journalism that customers are willing to pay to receive is the core of Bloomberg Editorial (and of our business model, at least on the terminal side). We need a modern organization that allows that sort of excellent journalism to happen.

3. A more modern organization

Bloomberg Editorial already produces a lot of great content: We can do even more if we’re truly unified, more global and less hierarchical.

Collaboration. Here we have already made quite a lot of progress. Bloomberg Intelligence and Bloomberg View have in different ways been models of integration. On the Media side, we have got rid of the anachronism of two separate newsrooms: across from my desk, the editors of TOP now sit beside those on the homepage. By making more use of terminal journalists, we now have a European homepage; one in Asia is on the way. We have broken down fences, sent “News” journalists into jobs in radio and television. The number of reporters appearing on BTV has soared, so have citations for BI analysts in Bloomberg News stories. But we still need to get rid of duplication, silos remain despite our best efforts and we could still do more to reach out to other parts of the group, such as BGOV and BBNA.

Part of the answer lies in technology. We will shortly unveil a much better version of MTEAM which will tell you who covers what. Use it, and feel free to reach out to anyone anywhere who might be of service in producing a good story. We are also looking at calendar software to show you who is working on which stories. But we also need to move humans around. Television will need more than one Otis Bilodeau, and Bloomberg.com needs more than one Maggie Otte. We will also soon launch a formal job-swap program, with a pool of around 40 people who will be sent on three-month assignments, so that, for instance, a new recruit in BTV can spend time on the equities team on First Word and vice versa. Top performers in Bloomberg Editorial should expect to have the opportunity to work in any part of Editorial.

Above all though, you should expect to be judged on how collaborative you are. Although I am not a great believer in metrics to assess journalists, the number of appearances reporters make on television or radio should be included in their evaluations (and so should pieces they do for the web and any help they give our Live conferences team). And it goes without saying that if you are unhelpful, you will not go far.

More global. We are far more parochial than the capitalism we are trying to chronicle. New York is still the home of most of our executive editors and most of our journalists on the web and the View. We have begun to change this. Government will be run out of Washington, technology from San Francisco. We have appointed new executive editors in London and we will appoint more in Asia. Again we have stressed that stories should be edited locally when possible, rather than wend their way up through several layers to New York and back again. That ties into my next point.

Leaner. I have said many times that I come from the Toyota school of journalism, not the 1970s Detroit one: quality relies on you signing off on something only when you think it is right, rather than passing something shoddy along the line hoping that some distant editor in Quality Control will tidy it up. We have tried to give more power to editors and bureau chiefs to make decisions locally. We have also reorganized departments so they are less hierarchical and cumbersome, splitting up some areas and focusing others, so that all our Energy and Commodities coverage is now centralized, and our deals team is integrated with corporate finance. We have begun to consolidate AV/Live Feeds and Real estate/Investing. Some of the changes this week have come from eliminating duplication. But many more have come from delayering and making sure that journalists write or edit. Unless you are in one of the editing hubs you cannot be a writer or editor at large. You have to be responsible for a beat; you have to be close to copy. You have to be a journalist not a bureaucrat.

More generally, I would like to make Bloomberg far less hierarchical: we have far too many titles and ranks. All readers need to know is what you write about or edit. We will return to that at a later date, but the basic idea is: we are a journalistic organization, and we employ either reporters or editors (and some editors manage, too).

And now?

Much of this is a work in process. A crucial lesson of the past decade in journalism is that it will likely be a permanent work in progress. Technology and the behavior of our users evolve every day, and our coverage will follow suit.

I am sorry that we had to lose a lot of good people today: no editor likes to have to sit down with a succession of journalists and explain that they are losing their jobs. But this is about refocusing our considerable resources to be true to our purpose. And I hope the path that we are taking is now clearer to all of you and you can see its promise.

As our finest journalist yet was fond of saying, the best is yet to come.

John