Bottom line on Bloomberg D.C. bureau, says reporter: It’s a bloated mess

June 18, 2015
Category: Uncategorized
The Bloomberg LP Tower, which houses Bloomberg News in New York. Bloomberg LP, a financial data and news company. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Bloomberg LP Tower, which houses Bloomberg News in New York. Bloomberg LP, a financial data and news company. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s been pretty much an open secret within Washington journalism circles that the Bloomberg News bureau is troubled.

Now many of the details are memorialized in a memo that spotlights one of the capital’s most curious media operations.

It argues that the bureau is apparently beset by a grievous lack of leadership, a climate of fear, a bloated staff, confusion over editorial marching orders and confusion about standards across various platforms, according to a reporter’s memo to two bosses.

Bloomberg News declined comment.

“Last year’s layoffs coupled with the demotions of several senior political writers have fostered a climate of fear and mistrust that’s particularly acute in the D.C. bureau,” writes Dawn Kopecki, a respected bureau veteran.

“That’s been exacerbated by the leadership void in D.C. and what is viewed in the bureau as a lack of clear direction from New York. Naming a well-respected and experienced journalist who has confidence from N.Y., which we hear you are working on, will be a tremendous help in that regard.”

Kopecki’s lengthy memo states, “People don’t know what editors want any more, they don’t know what kinds of stories are important to pursue. Their own editors don’t know and often won’t allow reporters to pursue certain stories out of fear that they’ll be criticized for not being interesting enough or too “terminal” focused. This leads to a vicious cycle of timidity, discourages aggressive reporting and hampers our ability to break news.”

The memo is written to news executives Josh Tyrangiel and Marty Schenker. Tyrangiel’s accomplishments include the dramatic revival of Business Week magazine (Full disclosure: I wrote a column on policy for him after Bloomberg’s purchase of the magazine).

The Bloomberg operation in Washington has been one of the largest, and most puzzling, over the past decade.

In an era of media downsizing, with famous newspapers even down to one person, it has boasted as many as 150 reporters and editors at Bloomberg News alone — in addition to related entities such as its Bloomberg Government (BGOV) service. Like Bloomberg News as a whole, its work has often been superb, even if not gaining nearly as much attention as it might deserve.

But it’s been beset by defections of talented staff, plunging morale among those who stayed, incessant feuding with New York headquarters, mistrust of inconsistent leadership and, most recently, a gaping void in leadership with nobody clearly in charge, according to a variety of sources.

New editorial leadership in New York is aware of major problems. A small sign came Monday with announcement of a new campaign finance-reporting unit in Washington, a move that follows the exit of a key editor and reporters. Given the bureau’s larger troubles, that represents a small move but one that Kopecki lauds as “a very positive development.”

Her criticisms include what she deems befuddling redundancy.

“In D.C. alone, we have an Economic Analysis team, an Economic U.S. Indicators team and a BI Economics team that’s trying to push ‘Bloomberg Economic Analysis.’ These teams all write on very similar and sometimes the same topics. There’s a lot of “cannibalization and overlap” without an “overall standard, coherent point of view.”

“We also have a Commodities Industry (which covers companies), a Commodities Markets (which covers commodities markets, but not companies), and a Commodities/Energy Editors team in New York. All of these teams write and edit essentially the same issues, but reporting is artificially delineated along absurd lines that don’t make any sense since a reporter covering oil companies has to understand what’s going on with OPEC and vice versa,” she writes.

She then adds, “The same can be said of the Finance team, Financial Crimes team and Financial Regulation teams. We have TWO DOJ reporters, one on the Financial Crimes team who’s technically not allowed to write or report on non-financial crimes and another who’s allowed to write about everything else except for the crimes that our biggest clients commit. Both reporters are very good, but reporting should take you to wherever the story takes you. You shouldn’t feel restricted from asking a source questions about a topic just because you’re not allowed to write about it.”

Kopecki concludes with one final matter: women at Bloomberg.

She claims, “Most of the bureau managers are white men and there are many subtle ways that they exclude or adversely impact women they manage. They leave women off distribution lists, don’t invite them to meetings about subjects directly in their wheelhouse and walk right by them when they are editing stories to ask questions of a team leader instead.”

She concludes, “There is also the sense that these male managers look out for the men on their staff and that may translate into better reviews for them than women, despite metrics and other performance measures. Almost ALL of the political writers who were demoted and/or driven out were women.”

Read the full the memo.