Bloomberg News has published a major update to its meticulous style guide, with a new emphasis on best practices for its data and multiplatform journalism.
The updated version of “The Bloomberg Way,” which was circulated to staff this week, is a departure from the business news organization’s previous version of the guide, which focused heavily on writing for the terminal — Bloomberg’s hallmark product (if you’re unfamiliar with the terminal, watch this).
“I think in the previous version we were probably more focused on print news, but this book really tries to address all of the platforms we now have,” said Jennifer Sondag, co-author of “The Bloomberg Way” and executive editor for global training at Bloomberg News. “Whether we’re writing for the terminal or appearing on TV, everyone is following the same standards … rather than these other platforms being on the periphery, they’re really at the center of what we do.”
In the past, rules in “The Bloomberg Way” were mainly aimed at journalists writing for the terminal, but the new edition includes a renewed focus on applying those principles to the organization’s social, web, broadcast and mobile products. New additions to “The Bloomberg Way,” which Bloomberg News co-founder and former editor in chief Matt Winkler wrote when the division was still an upstart in 1990, include an entire chapter on best practices for data journalism — complete with a guide on how to take information from the terminal and turn it into graphics. It also includes an increased focus on practical advice, such as how to perform specific terminal functions, learning a beat, finding sources and writing about markets.
Sondag said Bloomberg tries to update the more than 300-page guide every two to three years, and that this most recent update is the first since John Micklethwait was hired as editor in chief a little more than two years ago.
Micklethwait is one of the four co-authors of the updated guide, along with Managing Editor for News Training Paul Addison and Bill Grueskin, a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism and former executive editor for global training at Bloomberg. Micklethwait writes in the introduction that there were three major reasons for updating “The Bloomberg Way” — the publisher now encompasses several multimedia properties, technology has allowed for different styles of reporting and Bloomberg has a new editor in chief.
“‘The Bloomberg Way’ has played a huge role in turning a tiny upstart, which began with just a dozen reporters crammed into two offices in New York and London, into the leading provider of financial and business news around the globe,” he writes. “The main aim of this edition is to apply those principles across all the platforms where Bloomberg journalism appears — and in many cases to tighten them.”
Despite the move to tighten the principles of “The Bloomberg Way,” the guide has come under fire in the past for what some think of as a constricting amount of frivolous rules. Among some of the more obtuse ones – a discouragement on using the word “but,” as well as “despite” and “however.” Some have called the guide “cultish,” while others have said it represents the newsroom’s “regimented and intense” environment.
While the updated style guide still discourages the use of “but,” Sondag said it provides for more flexibility depending on which platform journalists are working on. Micklethwait even uses “but” in the guide’s introduction.
“It’s important to note that it was never banned. It was discouraged because we wanted to be very clear about how they communicate,” Sondag said. “We’ve always focused on clear and concise writing — that has not changed. What has changed is that we have more platforms now, so we have to have some flexibility on what people can do on those platforms.”
And Tim Franklin, senior associate dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University (and former president of Poynter), said that change is a good thing.
“I’m actually glad they did that,” said Franklin, who left Bloomberg News about three and a half years ago. “I think there are a lot of principles in ‘The Bloomberg Way’ that are really important, and I’ve come to appreciate (them) the longer I was around it.”
Franklin, who served as managing editor of Bloomberg News in Washington, D.C. before joining Poynter, said while “The Bloomberg Way” was pretty conventional when it came to handling breaking news when he worked there, its intense “show, don’t tell” principle drastically cut down on the amount of adjectives and embellishment writers were able to use in their writing. That took some getting used to.
“There were journalists inside Bloomberg who I think found it overly restrictive in some of the writing principles that were in it,” he said. “When I first got there, I had to reprogram, rewire my brain because I had basically spent three decades adhering to AP Style, or at least variations of AP Style.”
Franklin said since Bloomberg News’ audience is highly educated, highly compensated and very busy, the organization has to focus on getting business news out as fast and clear as possible. While that style hasn’t changed in the new edition, which was put together by journalists around the world, Sondag said there’s more flexibility and that Bloomberg will often default to AP Style if there isn’t a specific rule outlined in “The Bloomberg Way.”
“I think this book focuses less on rules and more on best practices and how we should think about approaching stories and visuals,” she said. “The newsroom has grown up and we have to think about all these other platforms that have grown up around that.”
While “The Bloomberg Way” has its detractors, Franklin said it’s hard to argue with the results of the 27-year-old style guide.
“If you think about the success of the business, and you think about the success of the journalism that’s come from it, it’s hard to argue with the results of ‘The Bloomberg Way,'” Franklin said. “‘The Bloomberg Way’ is a different way.”