Is Bloomberg the Future of Journalism?


Bloomberg wants to sell you some information.

The New York Times recently reported on the uncomfortable fit between Bloomberg News and its new print magazine purchase: BusinessWeek.

You may recall that Bloomberg bought BusinessWeek back in October for the price of a New York City condo ($5 million).

The Times calls it an “uneasy” marriage.  But I sense they’re just being polite.

What we’re witnessing with Bloomberg’s takeover of BusinessWeek (more than 120 BusinessWeek reporters and editors shown the exit door) is nothing short of the death of old-school journalism.

And, well, the birth – or at least the coronation – of something else.  New school journalism?  Internet age journalism?  Call it what you want, but the ramifications are enormous.  Think for a moment about this passage from the Times‘ piece:

“Every [Bloomberg] writer has a “dashboard” where the metrics determining his compensation — any scoops, hits an article attracts — are tracked.”

The article goes on to note that “At Bloomberg News… writers’ salaries are tied, among other factors, to how many “market-moving” articles they have produced…”

Then there’s this anecdote:

“One speaker was the head of Bloomberg’s “speed desk,” who was especially proud, according to people at the meeting, when the desk published a headline seconds ahead of Reuters, and a young trader had made enough money from that lead alone to buy a Hummer.  A BusinessWeek employee raised her hand. Why, she asked, would a journalist be proud of that?”

These passages showcase a radical departure from the way traditional journalists are compensated – or even the way in which they think about their roles.  When I was a journalist, my compensation was never determined by how much news I “sold.”  Or how many eyeballs read my stories.   And I certainly didn’t have my compensation goals scrolling on the screen in front of me.   That was a secondary consideration to the greater cause of journalism – public affairs and the greater good of society.

This quote by Finley Peter Dunne used to be the unofficial motto of the journalist:

“My business is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Bloomberg has changed the goal of journalism and the motivators.  And that’s because at its core, Bloomberg isn’t really about journalism.  It’s about information and selling it like a commodity.  The Bloomberg writer is tasked with moving the information or – in other words – selling the product.

That’s why the speed desk writer was impressed that his story allowed a trader to buy a new Hummer.  His information benefited his customer – and got him a larger bonus check at the end of the year.

That’s a different motivation than the traditional journalist who wants his stories to help in the betterment of society (and maybe win a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize).

Bloomberg’s influence is mirrored in what is happening on blogs and online news outlets.  Many bloggers use analytics to measure the impact of stories – how many people read it?  How many times was it forwarded or shared?  How much time did people spend reading it?  How many comments did it generate?

These analytics are more important than the bigger considerations of traditional journalism: Is the news accurate and true?  Is it objective and fair?  And does it enlighten the public?

This sea change is being illustrated in Bloomberg’s takeover of BusinessWeek – and the move product mentality of many blogs.

What do you think?  Is this the evolution of journalism?  Is Bloomberg’s model a good thing or a bad thing?

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5 Responses to “Is Bloomberg the Future of Journalism?”

  1. Muy interesante, George.

    Are classes in journalism school geared to this new “market-driven” writing style? If so, does Machiavelli teach it?

    A moment of silence for the gone, but not forgetten, muckraker.

  2. Bloomberg is run as a business, and this, increasingly, is the model that journalism and news producing and reporting organizations will have to adopt. The model of fat advertising revenues supporting journalism for the greater good is no longer working. It is fine for the journalist to say, “The value of what I am doing can’t be measured in financial terms” when the enterprise is showing a nice profit. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to say that when the creditors are beating down the door and the survival of the organization is in question. Bloomberg’s approach may strike one as crass, but it is an attempt to apply a metric to the writer’s performance. With the rise of online media, it is now possible to measure how many people actually read and interact with a particular story. That wasn’t possible, to nearly the same degree of accuracy, with print. An article might have inspired some letters to the editor, but how many people actually read it, told others about it, or cared? While journalism itself, if you regard it as the occupation of bringing truth to the for, exists in the moral sphere, business is by definition amoral, and the business enterprise lives or dies on its financial results. Unless a new group of deep-pocketed barons decides to invest in the news industry and put their desire for reputation and social cache ahead of the need to show a profit, I’m afraid the Bloomberg model is the new model.

  3. Hi Tom:
    Excellent points and I agree with many of them. But journalism shouldn’t only be about getting the most eyeballs. If that was the case then let’s just run celebrity gossip and provocative photographs.

    There needs to be a way for journalism to remain viable and to continue in its important role as a watchdog of business and government.

  4. You ask “Is the news accurate and true? Is it objective and fair? And does it enlighten the public?”. The news piece that the hummer owner read had to be all of these, or it would not have earned him the hummer.

    In fact, the general news media is increasingly vulnerable to bias. Every institution has their own well-recognised pitch from which they bat. We have only now realised that absolutely everyone has a bias and it is virtually impossible to extract, especially in an increasingly polarised world.

    But in business the news has to be accurate, truthful, objective, fair and enlightening, or you will find out about it pretty soon. The more it holds these qualities the better. If you want the purest untainted information go to the business feeds. Because the most efficient markets are driven by a thirst for pure(r) information. A checks and balances system, the efficiency of which a socialist state official can only drool over.

    If you want philosophical schnivel, coming out of the existential bellybutton of the world press herd, then run to the traditional media. And schnivel along with them.

    Aah-tchoo

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