While subordinates sent some 80 staff members home for Labor Day weekend never to return, Bloomberg News editor in chief John Micklethwait emailed a manifesto to the remaining staff today, laying out a vision for the enterprise that includes “cut[ting] back on lengthy self-indulgent stories.” The memo, which has been obtained by Deadline, is more than 3, 000 words long. Its message, boiled down, is that “this is not about downsizing; it is about refocusing our considerable resources” to become “the definitive Chronicle of Capitalism.”
No longer to be included in that chronicling, wrote Micklethwait, the former top editor of The Economist, are education and sports, where the cuts were broad and deep. They included the sports team leader and 21-year Bloomberg veteran Michael Sillup; managing editor Jay Beberman and reporters Michael Buteau in Atlanta, Dex McLuskey in Dallas and New York-based sports reporters Erik Matuszewski and Mason Levinson. Boston-based education reporter Chris Staiti also was given walking papers.
Among those fired was Dawn Kopecki, a senior reporter in Bloomberg’s Washington bureau who wrote her own, extremely pessimistic manifesto in June, addressed to senior staff and fellow bureau members but widely reported outside the organization. Although an intense investigation was mounted to find out who leaked Kopecki’s memo to outside press, no one took the fall — at least until today. Ironically, Kopecki was critical of what she saw as overstaffing:
“I’ve personally been at Bloomberg News for seven years now, three of which have been in D.C., and I’ve never seen morale lower, ” she wrote. “I’ve never seen the organization more bloated, never seen more redundancy and unnecessary overlap on beats, among editors and across platforms. … If I were running the organization, I would institute a hiring moratorium, retrain and repurpose existing staff as much as possible and hire outside the organization sparingly until headcount drops through attrition by a minimum of around 20 percent. In journalism, more isn’t always better. It’s just more.”
(Disclosure: I worked for Bloomberg News from 2006 to 2013 as a senior editor on the culture team and as chief drama critic. In November 2013, Micklethwait’s predecessor, Bloomberg News founding editor in chief Matthew Winkler, announced that our team’s services were no longer needed, in words similar to today’s memo, referring to the redirection of resources to so-called core coverage. The head of our team, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Manuela Hoelterhoff, remained on staff until this week, when her retirement was announced. Another Pulitzer winner, former New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt, also is out.)
As a percentage, 80 people isn’t high for a company that numbers about 2, 400 journalists in 150 bureaus worldwide. All of those bureaus are equipped for television and radio as well as digital journalism. Charlie Rose tapes his program in a studio at Bloomberg’s New York HQ, and Andy Lack, who recently returned to NBC News as head of the division, spent several years trying, unsuccessfully, to make sense of the Bloomberg TV operation. But the firings today were notable not only for the prevalence of senior, veteran journalists but also for the virtually total redirection of the company since the return of founder Michael Bloomberg after serving 12 years as mayor of New York City. Indeed, Micklethwait articulated a truth faced by every print news deliverer: If you want to survive, you’d better be prepared to shift your energies to digital, shortform news:
“[Y]ou should expect to be judged on how collaborative you are, ” Micklethwait wrote. “Although I am not a great believer in metrics to assess journalists, the number of appearances reporters make on television or radio should be included in their evaluations (and so should pieces they do for the web and any help they give our Live conferences team). And it goes without saying that if you are unhelpful, you will not go far.”
The cuts hardly reflect an organization in financial trouble. The company mints money. In August, talkingbiznews.com reported that Bloomberg.com grew 102 percent year-over-year with 23.6 million unique visitors in June, remaining ahead of WSJ.com, CNNMoney.com, CNBC.com and others. In addition, Bloomberg Media posted another record video traffic month in June, reaching 16.5 million unique viewers worldwide and maintaining the No. 1 position in comScore’s Business and Finance category for the second month in a row. Bloomberg is building a massive new campus in central London; its flower-and-fish-festooned New York headquarters on Lexington Avenue, with its curving escalator and contemporary art, is an impressive testament to success and power.
And while all news organizations are confronted with high expenses, deep competition from the Internet and a historic migration from paid to free or exclusively advertiser-supported journalism, Bloomberg’s competitors, including Thomson Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, have expanded their idea of “core” coverage to include subjects of interest to readers in the financial services industries, primarily to keep them on their sites.
Bloomberg’s main business is delivering speed-of-light financial information to terminals or software that rent for as much as $2, 100 per month. In recent years, that mandate has come up against the mission of Bloomberg journalists in developing regions such as China and India — key targets for selling terminals as major American clients like Lehman Brothers closed up shop. That internal conflict, which resulted in several embarrassing episodes, has sent a cloud over the company that remains today as talk of core coverage is bandied about.
Largely missing from Micklethwait’s manifesto, for example, was how Bloomberg News’ chronicle of capitalism will operate in exploding financial markets such as China, where government officials threaten to cut off terminal sales in retaliation for investigative journalism that reveals the dark side of the new capitalism in the People’s Republic. Bloomberg LP, of which Bloomberg News is a division, won’t sacrifice sales for scoops, no matter what the editor says. It was just such a showdown, and its public laundering, that was widely viewed as the reason for Winkler’s removal from the day-to-day news operation and his replacement by Micklethwait.