Friday, December 12, 2014

1421 The Bloomberg Omelette

This will be a little “inside baseball.”  But there’s a moral at the end that might be of value even if you don’t care a whit about former NY mayor Mike Bloomberg or his terminals or his news operation.

Bloomberg is making big changes at his company:  out with the old, in with the new.

For those of us long in the service of Bloomberg News, this is an old story, but with bigger than usual players.

And those outside the company are trying to read the tea leaves.  Forget about it.  There are no tea leaves.  The Maximum Chef is breaking eggs and trying a new recipe for an omelette.  He doesn’t know what it’ll look or taste like when it’s out of the pan and neither does anyone else.

Back when Mike was mayor, rumors spread that the company would buy “Business Week” magazine.  When reporters asked editor-in-chief Matt Winkler to comment, he said “we’re builders, not buyers.”

An eyeblink later, Bloomberg bought the magazine.  

That was a tea leaf, and some of us read it correctly, it turns out.

Now Winkler, who built the news operation from people watching pork belly and uranium trades to a giant of journalism is on his way upstairs. This after establishing a monolith with than 2,000 workers in150 bureaus.  The New York Times has about 50.

But the media world has changed around Winkler, and so has the company.  So now, he’s going to be “editor-in-chief emeritus,” whatever that is, and gets to hang out with Mike at the uber posh headquarters on Lexington Avenue and … and … do what?

The two men are close.  But Mike breaks eggs. It’s worked for him in the long run.

And there wasn’t a lot of mourning when the personnel change was announced.  Matt has the kind of personality that might have moved Gandhi to throw a punch.

That, too, has worked to the company’s advantage. Niccolo Machiavelli teaches us that it is more effective for a ruler to be feared than loved.

Matt’s stylebook, “The Bloomberg Way,” is the journalistic equivalent of a straightjacket.  But for an organization of the company’s size, it too works.  It’s thick, but in substance it’s little more than an annotated template.

Cranky executives never seemed to bother Mike. In fact, he embraced them.  So maybe it wasn’t Matt’s personality that got him kicked upstairs.  

Dedication never bothered Mike.  Matt never slept. Ever. No matter the time of day or the day of the week; no matter the location of his physical form, he was lurking.

Meantime, the data monolith marches on, carrying the news division on its shoulders.  Twenty grand a month per terminal, with 350,000 of them or so said to be in service:  that’s enough to run the news division the old fashioned way, as a public service.

So a big, look-to-the future wave is swamping all aspects of the company now that the Chef is out of city hall and back in the kitchen.

But there are no tea leaves; no tarot cards.  What you see happening is the omelette under construction, subject to regular tweaks of the recipe, some of them self-cancelling.

What you’re seeing is Mike being Mike.

I promised you a moral at the end: don’t try to second guess this guy or anyone like him.


--12/12/14… To Ed Koch:  Happy 90th, old friend. Sorry you had to go. Wish you were here.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

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