NEW YORK — Instructions for finding Bloomberg Businessweek editor Josh Tyrangiel’s desk in the Bloomberg Tower on East 58th Street: Enter on Lexington Avenue. Walk past gigantic undulating wooden installation art. See security desk. Pose for picture (camera behind tinted glass). Wear your badge — always wear your badge until you leave. Go up in the elevator to the sixth floor, “The Link.” There aren’t arrows above the doors in the elevator bank, just large panels of lights (tip from one Bloomberger: “Red is down, green is up, like the stock market”).
On the sixth floor, pass the koi pond and circumvent the crowd weighing different chip options (banana, low-fat potato) around the snack station. Take the spiraling escalator down to the fifth floor (very important to manage attention economy at this moment between unusual escalator shape and cloud-shaped titanium-alloy art installation hovering nearby). Pass signs for international desks in Jakarta, Seoul, Shanghai. Another escalator. Pass Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa. Pass the mini-television studio. Down one flight of stairs. Pass fish tank. Pass room labeled “Syndication Control Room.” Find yourself in an expansive bay of low cubicles, each stocked with no fewer than two monitors and an orange emergency preparedness bag, including gas mask.
Tyrangiel’s desk is at the end of the first row, up against a window overlooking some air-conditioning equipment on an adjacent building over 58th Street. It looks like every other desk in the room. At the McGraw-Hill building on 1221 Avenue of the Americas, near The Wall Street Journal and News Corp., the editor in chief of BusinessWeek had a large corner office, but not here.
On Thursday at noon, Tyrangiel was huddling with one of his staff at a small table near the windows in faded blue jeans and a sweater. He was in Davos, Switzerland, the week before and was leaving to visit the magazine’s Washington bureau later that day. This week he enjoyed beginning jokes with, “I don’t know if you know, but I was in Davos, and I was just speaking to….”
“Pretty much from the moment we met when he was applying for this position, it was kind of love at first sight,” said Matt Winkler, the editor in chief of Bloomberg News and co-author of “The Bloomberg Way,” the notorious pamphlet outlining the company’s standards and methods. “And that first sight was not the sartorial splendor, if you will, associated with some other people around here who are in suits.”
On his first day, Tyrangiel did wear a suit because, he explained, “I’m a huge dork.” He ran into Winkler, who lives in a bow tie and who was disappointed in the new editor’s outfit.
“It was a bit surprising — I dare say, unsettling — when he attempted to blend in,” Winkler continued. “Of course, he doesn’t need to think about those things because he’s somebody who’s really inspiring by everything he does. I really don’t want him to change anything.”
This isn’t the same Bloomberg that the magazine-making New York media world has known and happily ignored for years. This is the Bloomberg that buys a tired business magazine losing $800,000 a week and hands it over to Tyrangiel, a precocious 38-year-old former music critic-turned-deputy managing editor for the Web at Time magazine.
“What I saw was somebody who had been able to get the respect of a lot of very senior people within Time magazine and the Time Inc. organization. He was part of a new breed who understood both digital and print,” said Norman Pearlstine, Bloomberg’s chief content officer and the chairman of Bloomberg Businessweek, who had been editor in chief at Time Inc. and had numerous contacts within the organization. Pearlstine led the company’s acquisition of BusinessWeek and the search for an editor, which included a field of a dozen candidates inside and outside Bloomberg, and ended with the youngest one. “He was just a great magazine maker who I thought could figure out the business story,” said Pearlstine.
Figuring out the role of the weekly business magazine in today’s Bloomberg-nanosecond-driven world is a different problem entirely. The cloud of ash from Portfolio’s failure has only just settled. Fortune has scaled back to 18 issues a year these days and the Forbes yacht is high and dry. BusinessWeek was down 31.2 percent in ad pages in 2009 when it went up for sale.
Then there is a problem with fit. Bloomberg has never seemed like a company that knew anything about or cared at all for magazine making. The company already had one magazine, Bloomberg Markets, which began as a manual for the terminal. Writing throughout the company has always been rigid and formulaic. The word “but” is banned in wire copy because putting conflicting ideas in the same sentence confuses readers trading at breakneck pace.
But Bloomberg did have a few things to offer: billions of dollars in cash and a staff of more than 2,300 journalists in 146 bureaus around the world. With resources like that, it’s hard to imagine how Tyrangiel — or any capable editor, really — could fail. In the last year, the magazine’s trouble with advertisers has taken a turn for the better (ad pages were up 6.3 percent last year), but the newsstand hurdle remains a big one. In Tyrangiel’s first year, the title’s newsstand sales were down 26.9 percent.
TYRANGIEL LIVES ON East Seventh Street between Avenues B and C with his architect wife and his daughter, who is turning three soon. He rides the 6 train to work. He likes the new Kanye West album and Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow,” but he’s been in a country-music stage recently.
He is close to 6 feet tall and has black curly hair that meanders away from his deep-set eyes. He has degrees from Penn and Yale and speaks quickly, avoiding contractions. But his saving grace — what keeps him from being a smug, handsome brat who has climbed too high too fast — is his ability to put people at ease.
“He had an unbelievably good sense of humor, which I think is a form of emotional intelligence that allows you to do well,” said Walter Isaacson, who hired and mentored Tyrangiel at Time in the Nineties. Isaacson has been reading the new Bloomberg Businessweek and said, perhaps not objectively: “It’s smarter than The Economist and better reported.”
At Time, Tyrangiel was regarded as a rising star and was talked about by some inside the building as someone who might take over as Rick Stengel’s successor. One of Tyrangiel’s last charges at Time was to transform the weekly’s Web site into something that could be more competitive online. “It needed to be speeded up, it needed a new sensibility, it needed more fun, and I think he had all of the attributes to make that happen,” Stengel said. “One of the things is, frankly, that he tapped into the ability and sensibility and ambition of the people here.”
Several members of Tyrangiel’s staff at Bloomberg describe him as a man who never raises his voice; never berates anybody, even when it’s deserved, and never makes people feel anxious on deadline.
“He was just extremely excited to be in charge,” said New York Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren, who Tyrangiel hired as an executive editor when he was relaunching the magazine. “It was hard to imagine he ever had a job where he wasn’t in charge. He was just very comfortable in it.…He’s a full-on good dude.”
Tyrangiel hasn’t just been charged with taking old BusinessWeek, winnowing down the old staff and relaunching it under a new name. His real charge is to create a 21st-century business magazine. “I want all readers. I want every reader. I want every single person who has an interest in global economics, business and commerce to be in these pages,” he said.
“This is something that the business side always hates when I say it, but I am the reader,” he added. “That is my actual job, to be the proxy for the reader.…What I’m trying to figure out is, how can we interest them? It’s this real balance between being comprehensive, making sure we prepare them for everything that’s coming in the week ahead and taking them out of their comfort zone.”
Eric Pooley, a former managing editor at Fortune, came on as Tyrangiel’s deputy to offer the masthead bona-fide business magazine experience. “This magazine didn’t exist a year ago. We invented it last spring,” he said. Pooley left magazines for a few years to work on a book and said he wouldn’t have come back to a business publication unless there was a job he was really excited about. “In a magazine world that increasingly seems to be managing for decline, Bloomberg was investing in growth,” he said.
Writers at the magazine said the cost of reporting a story never enters into their thinking. They can oftentimes travel with their subject and don’t have to think about whether or not their story will pan out before booking a plane ticket out of the country. Any plane trip over four hours must be flown in business class, according to company policy. Even these trips aren’t a waste in the magazine’s role as an ambassador to titans of industry — in other words, corporate executives who don’t read the terminal and have never thought about Bloomberg when they have news to break.
Pooley bragged about the magazine’s nutrient-rich front of the book, the place where perhaps Bloomberg News-style writing appears the most. It’s wonky at times, but the magazine’s art and design — small photos of Angela Merkel and a bear, for example, or bullet points at the end of each item that summarize the main points — have helped.
“I am quite shocked that we make the magazine we make in a funny sort of way,” said the magazine’s creative director Richard Turley, previously an art director for The Guardian of London’s G2 section. Tyrangiel moved Turley, 34, and his wife and young son from London after he did a great job turning Tyrangiel’s original 5,000-word relaunch memo to Bloomberg executives into a couple of mock-ups.
The magazine has been a hit in the design community and is considered competition for the entire weekly class. “Week after week, creative director Richard Turley and his crew are producing stunning covers and features, along with tightly formatted interior pages that rival New York for their texture, density, creativity, and attention to detail,” wrote veteran magazine designer Robert Newman on the Society of Publication Designers’ blog. “This is state-of-the-art magazine design, with highly-original and intelligent photos, graphics, and illustrations.”
Pearlstine couldn’t be happier, and Tyrangiel has managed to not upset Winkler’s very specific sensibilities. “I thought he nailed it from the start, and I think he nails it every week,” said Winkler.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great editors over the years,” Pearlstine said. “I don’t know anyone who has accomplished more in a shorter period of time or has more potential than Josh.”
The magazine’s main fight is with readers and advertisers and it can’t be a hit without moving off the newsstand. At least for now, Tyrangiel’s lackluster numbers do not appear to matter to Pearlstine, or anyone at Bloomberg.
“We want to and expect to be profitable,” he said.
But: “We also see extraordinary benefits to Bloomberg that go beyond the bottom line. I think getting into the corporate suite has certainly helped us get access to news makers, which is very good for the Bloomberg terminal.”