Tyrangiel Takes Over at BusinessWeek

Bloomberg surprised just about everybody by picking Josh Tyrangiel of Time to helm the newly acquired (and newly gutted—it’s sacking a quarter of the staff) BusinessWeek.

All of the stories made sure to note prominently in a sort of raised-eyebrows way that Tyrangiel is but a wee lad of 37 years and has never been a business journalist.

Well, sounds good to me.

First, having been relatively young when the Web dawned and having helmed Time.com, he’s more likely to really get the Web. Sorry, I’m not being ageist or sympathetic to a contemporary, I’m just being realistic. Here’s how Tom Lowry reports his eye-popping numbers at Time.com:

During his tenure at Time.com, Tyrangiel boosted the Web site’s traffic from 400 million page views in 2006 to what could be an estimated 1.8 billion page views this year.

But getting the Web means understanding its weaknesses, too. You can get that it’s awesome for many things and sucks for many others—like reading anything that takes more attention than 30 seconds or so. Evidence Tyrangiel understands this comes from this flyby interview with Lowry, one of his new charges:

“Listen, the big mistake magazines made was trying to imitate the Web,” he said. “Magazines are read reclining, and that lends itself to longer, more in-depth stories.”

Pretty simple: Do Web things on the Web and do print things in print (or e-reader, which is the same thing). It sounds like Tyrangiel is doubling down on reading, which pretty much means in-depth reporting and analysis. We like that stuff, though admit to fears about the demand for it.

As far as never having been a business journalist, that’s a feature, not a bug, as Tyrangiel implies with his “I wasn’t hired to be the great business editor” quote this morning in The New York Times. Someone who’s not schooled in “this is how it’s done” is more likely to see problems in how it’s done. We’ve criticized the business press for being too narrow in its scope and for focusing too much on investors’ short-term interests and too little on how those interests affect everybody else (which is ultimately in investors’ long-term interest. See: current crisis).

I’ve got no idea if Tyrangiel can pull such a feat off, but he’s got a head start: BusinessWeek has been less inside-the-bubble and more aggressive than its competitors. I wrote this when the false dollar-for-BW story was making the rounds this summer:

BusinessWeek does the best journalism of the three major business magazines. It’s scrappier and less enthralled with Wall Street and CEOs and Capitalist Tools and the like. Okay, it prints columns by Maria Bartiromo and Jack Welch. You can’t win ‘em all.

But it does real, hard-nosed investigative reporting and its news stories are more detached and skeptical of the powers that be than most other business publications.

Now, Bloomberg has gotten rid of the Bartiromo and Welch columns. Good start!

We’ve said before there’s an opportunity here to marry the massive resources of Bloomberg News with BusinessWeek’s editorial polish—something Bloomberg’s copy too often lacks, to the serious detriment of its reportage.

Here’s hoping Tyrangiel can pull it off. As Stephanie Clifford of The New York Times points out, they’re two, um, different cultures:

The culture clash between Bloombergians and BusinessWeek staff will be interesting to watch. Bloomberg tracks when its employees come and go, monitors whether employees are at their terminals and has all of its writers make their calendars accessible to anyone in the building. Bloomberg says it makes it easier to find people, but employees say they can feel constantly monitored. And instead of an easygoing magazine culture, where editorial meetings are rarely held before 10 a.m. because no one would show up, Bloomberg News staff begin arriving before 6 a.m., and there’s a long line to get into the elevators by 8 a.m. The elevator only stops on a couple floors of the building, making staffers crowd through open areas and onto escalators to get to their floor, creating a sense of activity and intensity.

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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 rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.