April 20, 2015

Goliath came out of the shadows Monday.

Bloomberg News won its first Pulitzer for engrossing work by reporter Zachary Mider on corporate tax avoidance.

His stories were cited for a “painstaking, clear and entertaining explanation of how so many U.S. corporations dodge taxes and why lawmakers and regulators have a hard time stopping them,” according to the formal statement by the Pulitzer board.

“I am delighted for Zach – and also for Matt Winkler who spent 25 years building one of the world’s great news organizations at a time when quality journalism elsewhere has been shrinking. I hope he will now get the credit he deserves,” wrote John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, in an email.

Winkler is his predecessor who with Michael Bloomberg largely oversaw the creation and emergence of Bloomberg as both a financial industry and financial news staple.

But, ironically, it’s stunning growth did not come with automatic mainstream media acknowledgment, respect and professional kudos.

In many ways, it’s labored in a certain obscurity even within the frequent echo chamber of modern media.

As the business models of others crashed, most notably daily newspapers, Bloomberg grew aggressively.

It now has 2,400 journalists globally, 150 bureaus and total revenues of roughly $9 billion. That’s due to a business model in which its financial terminals are indispensable for about 325,000 financial industry professionals worldwide.

Those terminals have so far provided an unceasing revenue stream that essentially undergirds its more general interest journalism, including the work on tax dodging.

The branching out, including serious coverage of politics and international affairs, delves well beyond the caricature of a narrow, financially-oriented operation obsessed with beating financial news competitors by a few seconds on breaking stories.

It has along the way become a repository of significant amounts of talent, a journalistic version of the old New York Yankees under the late George Steinbrenner.

Money has often seemed of no great concern in luring top-notch reporters and editors, even if a cold and metrics-driven corporate culture inspired by Michael Bloomberg can produce a personnel revolving door at times.

The tax series was far from sterile and finally caught the attention of the Pulitzer judges as being best in its class — in this case explanatory journalism.

“This shows if you spend the money, hire the right people and really put out a big effort, you can do Pulitzer winning journalism, “ said Marty Kaiser, a Pulitzer judge in another category who is the recently retired editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“It has been growing while others declining and thus able to hire really good people,” he said. “They’re filling a role that many news organizations can’t afford to do anymore. Investigative and project reporting like this is a very expensive undertaking.”

Mider’s work helped to even bring an arcane term, tax “inversion,” into more popular discussion. And Bloomberg’s own characterization of the series on its website strayed from the stylistic sterility (it’s not big on adjectives) that some associate with the Bloomberg way of reporting many stories.

Mider is a 2001 Poynter Institute News Reporting and Writing fellow.

“More large U.S. companies are effectively renouncing their U.S. citizenship by adopting a legal address abroad. They’re being driven away by the highest corporate income tax in the developed world, and helped by a tax code so porous that they can choose from several means of escape. The most popular move, known as an ‘inversion,’ allows a company to change its country of incorporation without a change in majority ownership, management, or headquarters.”

During festivities in the Bloomberg newsroom in New York, the new editor praised both the winning work and his own predecessor.

“If you sit and read all the pieces he wrote, as I did over the weekend, it is a wonderful mixture of thorough reporting, surgical dissection of a very complicated issue, passion and occasionally humor. He is completely in control of his subject.”

He then singled out Winkler, who is an idiosyncratic figure of high professional values who was both heralded and disliked among rank and file, as “a man who has built up an organization dedicated to quality.”

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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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