Bloomberg, Uncovered

A news organization that won't report on itself

Gothamist flags this gem down deep in a Bloomberg News story on its new Billionaire’s Index:

Bloomberg News editorial policy is to not cover Bloomberg LP. As a result Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, won’t be considered for this ranking.


Now, let’s see: Bloomberg does cover its founder Michael Bloomberg all the time, in his capacity as mayor of New York. But it won’t report on (or “originate reporting on”; see below) the company he founded, and won’t report out how much he’s worth. Got it.

Is it just me, or is there something vaguely North Korean about this?

Bloomberg, along with Thomson Reuters, is one of the biggest business-news organizations on the planet, and the media is a big business. Which raises the question: Can you really cover an industry and not write about one of the biggest companies in it?

I asked Bloomberg how that works, and their PR folks referred me to page 80 of The Bloomberg Way:

Because of the special nature of our company, we should not originate stories about Bloomberg LP. Nevertheless, we will not hesitate to summarize what other news organizations report on the company. A company spokesman should be provided an opportunity to comment on any such story.

There is an obvious conflict of interest when reporting about competitors, so we must disclose any conflict and provide a disclaimer:

So, the answer as to why Bloomberg doesn’t cover itself is because of its “special nature,” which isn’t so special after all. The Wall Street Journal writes about News Corporation. ABC reports on Walt Disney Company. Fortune covers Time Warner. And Reuters covers Thomson Reuters.

Audit Chief Parliamentarian Dean Starkman has written before on the quirks of The Bloomberg Way. It is pretty high-flown, as style manuals go. “The Way,” it says, for instance, “necessitates a respect for life, peace and harmony, education, family stability, social responsibility, transparency, free trade and free markets,” as Matthew Winkler writes in the new edition of the style guide.

That gives me goosebumps and all, but what about just fully covering a major business beat?

How can you write about, say, turmoil in Thomson Reuters’s markets division without writing about its chief competitor? Or write about the magazine industry without writing about Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s resurgence? Or calculate a Billionaires Index without tallying up your owner, whom Forbes says is worth $20 billion (which I should note is not enough to be in Bloomberg News’s Top 20).

As I’ve written with The Wall Street Journal and News Corporation, I’d hardly expect a news organization to go out there and launch muckraking investigations of its parent. I said then that “What we should expect is that the WSJ, as a comprehensive business paper, will report the news as it develops, disclose its ownership, and display the story appropriately for its readers.”

The same goes for Bloomberg.

You can’t just not cover a major company sitting at the heart of a major beat when you’re a comprehensive news service. Nobody’s that special.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,