FEELING A PINCH: Bloomberg’s terminal business may be a factor in Tuesday’s round of layoffs, which claimed 90 jobs in the company’s news division.
Although Bloomberg has always billed itself as a sort of oasis for journalists — meaning a place that offered stability, relatively higher salaries and incentive pay based on performance — it has become more like its competitors, volatile and changing.
The company, which has about 2,400 employees globally, cut about a dozen reporters in its Washington D.C. office, 20 in New York and the rest across other bureaus for a total of 80 to 90 people worldwide, WWD has learned. Those jobs will not be added back. New hires will go to the organization’s fast commentary team dubbed “Bloomberg Gadfly” and its morning briefing team called “Daybreak.” But, overall, the company that repeatedly boasted it was hiring hundreds of journalists annually will be flat this year in terms of employee total.
Bloomberg indicated that it would not be adding new jobs to core beats, and called the strategy a “refocusing,” according to new editor in chief John Micklethwait.
In a memo obtained by WWD, Micklethwait told staff on Tuesday that he would focus on “building on six pillars: business, finance, markets, economics, technology and power (politics and government).”
He said this has caused the company to end its sports and education coverage and turn its attention to social media monitoring, its markets TV show and its global radio network, among other things. There is also a renewed focus on venture capital, market structure and campaign finance, he added, which makes sense since financial consumers, who dole out $21,000 a year for Bloomberg’s terminal, are probably more concerned with business news than scores from the latest European football match.
According to reports, terminal subscriptions account for roughly 85 percent of Bloomberg’s total revenue. Although Bloomberg’s terminal business is still thriving, its stronghold is weakening as less expensive sources of business data continue to emerge. The social aspect of the terminal, which is likened to “chat” or internal messaging, is also under pressure as more internal messaging services such as Slack or Skype for Business gain in popularity. Recently, banks have backed a messaging service, Symphony, which, according to reports, was developed out of an in-house messaging project at Goldman Sachs & Co., meant to rival the Bloomberg system. This followed the scandal two years ago that uncovered the fact that Bloomberg reporters were accessing supposedly confidential data on the terminals that gave them direct contact details and also told them when a user was logged on or off so they would know when to call them.
“If you come up with a good story on La Liga or want to do a podcast on Saudi Arabian schools, by all means pitch it: there is no ban on writing about noncore subjects,” Micklethwait said. “But there is a higher barrier of interest for such stories to jump over, and the expectations for quality will be set extremely high as well.”
Micklethwait, a longtime editor in chief of The Economist, joined the company at the beginning of the year. Since then, he has been part of a larger restructuring at the company, which overhauled its television department, Web site and, in some ways, culture.
For Micklethwait’s part, insiders said the ex-Economist editor is trying to “improve” the writing at the financial news service, which is known for its formulaic writing style and old-school pyramid lead structure. When new hires arrive at Bloomberg, they are given a manual on how to write a news story, and are instructed to avoid using words such as “but” and “however” in their copy so as to avoid reader confusion.
Micklethwait hopes that the tradition of stark writing will wither during his tenure, but looks to expand Bloomberg’s hard-hitting, market-moving stories, and said as much on Tuesday.
“Our purpose is to be the definitive ‘chronicle of capitalism’ — to capture everything that matters in global business and finance. That does not mean that we will restrict ourselves to markets and economics any more than Adam Smith did,” he offered. “But it does mean that we should concentrate our firepower on the area where every Bloomberg customer — whether it is a television viewer in Baltimore, a terminal user in Berlin or a Web user in Bangalore [India] — expects us to be the definitive chroniclers.”