the audit

BusinessWeek to Grow—Really!

All but left for dead two months ago, the weekly will expand its pages
October 14, 2009

Fortune and Forbes better look out.

BusinessWeek, just a couple of months ago given decent odds to disappear from the face of the earth, isn’t even going to go bi-weekly or online-only—it’s going to get bigger.

Just weeks ago, its two main competitors thought they might be losing their third. Now, says Norm Pearlstine, they’re going to be facing a bulked-up one, even if it did lose 99.5 percent of its value in nine years.

This news comes from a PaidContent interview of Pearlstine, Bloomberg’s chief content officer, on his acquisition of the money-bleeding magazine:

We will expand the number of pages devoted to editorial, we will commit to being a true weekly because we think that even in this market the predictability that comes with a weekly has value. I think that’s what distinguishes The Economist and The Week from the fortnightlies, from weeklies that cut back on their frequency.

Perhaps Bloomberg thinks it can figure out a way to make money, even if it doesn’t know right now, but it sounds like it will be content to use BusinessWeek as a loss-leader to raise Bloomberg’s profile. Pearlstine notes that the magazine’s circulation is more than three times the number of Bloomberg terminal subscribers and that it reaches an audience Bloomberg doesn’t:

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…we have always had both a desire and a need to be read in the corporate suite, in areas of government where people are not subscribing to the terminal and that access is important to us in terms of our ability to break news, to provide better coverage for the subscribers of the terminal…

The New York Times put this another way this morning, in its news story on the purchase:

With its gigantic newsroom of about 2,200 people and its aggressive reporting, Bloomberg has won a growing number of awards, but it is frustrated by its lack of cachet in the journalism world. Reporters and editors have long been frustrated by the lack of access to business executives, and they believed that limited their ability to break news and be a player in larger news coverage.

I’d say the second sentence there is one of the reasons why Bloomberg has put out some of the best journalism of the crisis. In many instances it’s been scrappier and less attuned to narrow business interests than the other major financial media (Adding: something we call the access problem). Fortunately, BusinessWeek is scrappier and better than either of its two competitors, but still: Be careful what you wish for, guys.

I don’t think anybody but a couple hundred CEO’s would like Bloomberg’s journalism to become more like Maria Bartiromo’s.

Point is, if Bloomberg doesn’t gut BusinessWeek‘s newsroom, which Pearlstine all but promises here, and if it really invests in the print product, which will now have an additional 2,200 journalists to draw on, Fortune and Forbes‘ prospects just got a lot dimmer.

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.