A few days earlier, Bloomberg had announced with some fanfare the hiring of Norman Pearlstine, a famous ex-Wall Street Journal editor and ex-Time Inc. executive. The reaction of Bloomberg’s competitors in financial journalism was curious:
“They’re not fundamentally a journalistic organization,” said Paul Steiger, a former managing editor of The Journal and former colleague of Mr. Pearlstine’s. “It’s about the machine. The journalism promotes the machine.”
The quote comes from a New York Times story, the headline of which also helped to capture Bloomberg’s anomalous position.
Bloomberg L.P. Fills Post, Suggesting Shift to News
How, I wondered, can an organization employing an army of 2,300 reporters writing 4,000 news articles each day “shift to news”? By writing 5,000 a day?
The paradox led to me to wonder about Bloomberg’s lonely orbit in the financial news constellation, and what, if anything, would change under Pearlstine, who will be parallel to Winkler in the organization, both reporting to Bloomberg Chief Executive Dan Doctoroff. It also made me wonder about the Bloomberg Way.
I placed a call to Czelusniak to ask about the word bans. She joked about “urban myths” that had surround Bloomberg’s intense work environment and offered to have me meet Winkler, who was flying in on a red-eye from Bloomberg’s bureau in Rio de Janeiro. The next morning, I found myself shaking hands with the editor in chief himself, looking surprisingly fresh in his bow tie and pressed blue shirt. What followed was a wide-ranging interview on Bloomberg News, its relative influence, the significance of the Pearlstine hiring, the word bans and more.
A graduate of Kenyon College, Winkler was a Wall Street Journal reporter when the future mayor called. From six people at the beginning, the company has grown to 2,300 newsroom employees, an astounding number that is three times the editorial staff of The Wall Street Journal (which has 750 reporters and editors), four times that of the Financial Times (540) and twenty times the size of The New York Times’s Business Day staff (110). Bloomberg has 135 bureaus, again, an eye-popping number. Its terminal readership is more than 330,000, including about 273,000 Bloomberg subscribers, generally financial-services professionals, corporate executives and other well-heeled, well-educated people, and the people who share the machines. Bloomberg’s wire is syndicated to more than 400 newspapers. Winkler won the 2007 Loeb lifetime-achievement award from the UCLA business school.
While the vast majority of Bloomberg offerings are grind-it-out financial pieces of a few hundred words, lately it has won attention for some longer-form stories appearing in its Bloomberg Markets magazine. Among them, a piece on slave labor, pension funds buying trash securities, and work I particularly liked on insurance-industry abuses of policyholders. It also offers coverage of the arts, education, and other non-business topics.
(Bloomberg News hasn’t been written about much, although Bloomberg LP has. Here is a good story by Fortune’s Carol Loomis.)
Even so, media people understand Bloomberg to be a regimented, hierarchical organization where fear is in no short supply. Current and former Bloomberg reporters regard Winkler as a temperamental and sometimes arbitrary leader given to issuing edicts that no one has the courage to contradict. A former reporter recalls how one of Winkler’s offhand gripes, about reporters sitting around reading newspapers, became transmogrified into an outright ban on newspaper reading in the newsroom. The misunderstanding was ultimately cleared up. A current reporter describes the tension on the fifth floor, where Winkler and his deputies preside, as palpable—and eases just as palpably as one walks downstairs to newsrooms below.
Some reporters believe their movements are monitored to the extent that when they fail to touch their keyboard for fifteen minutes, a dot next to their name in the Bloomberg computer system shifts from green (meaning, basically, “logged in and active”) to yellow (for “idle”). This is technically true but in fact the dot system applies to all Bloomberg users, including customers. Winkler himself didn’t know the actual meaning of the yellow light when I asked him about it. Czelusniak says Bloomberg’s system is designed to allow staffers to get touch with each other quickly and to know, for instance, whether it’s worth messaging someone knowing they may not be at their desk.
An excellent Columbia Journalism Review story, though thirteen years old, describes sweatshop-like newsroom working conditions and included a colorful quote from Barbara Garson, author of the book The Electronic Sweatshop: “Bloomberg,” she said, “is hell.”
Winkler for his part was unapologetic in the piece. “We’re not for everybody, but we’re building something here and we have to work like hell to do it,” we quoted him then.