The Rise of Bloomberg News

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By any standard, Michael Rubens Bloomberg is one of the most successful public figures of our age. As the third-term mayor of New York, a billionaire many times over, and in the top tier of global philanthropists, he has stature nonpareil among his mogul peers, none of whom has amassed power in as many ways. His namesake, Bloomberg LP, emerged from the financial upheavals of the past three years more formidable than ever and more tightly controlled now that Merrill Lynch has sold the 20 percent share of the business it owned, valuing the company at $22.5 billion. Surprisingly, for all these superlatives, Bloomberg's role as a shaper of journalism's future still lags the reality it has become. In the tectonic shifts of how information is gathered and distributed, Bloomberg News has become one of the world's largest and increasingly influential news organizations.

The senior management and editors of Bloomberg News now include (to the point of possibly being crowded ) such stars as Amanda Bennett, the features editor, who was managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and has just been named chair of the Pulitzer Prize board; Al Hunt, who was for years the most visible presence of the Wall Street Journal in Washington and is now Bloomberg's executive Washington editor; Norman Pearlstine, who was managing editor of the Wall Street Journal in one of its best periods, was later was editor-in-chief of Time Inc., and is now chairman of the new Bloomberg Business Week; and Andy Lack, whose considerable resume includes being president of NBC News. The editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News is Matt Winkler, whom Bloomberg hired in 1990 from a then seemingly indomitable Dow Jones as the first employee of a fledgling news service because of his expertise in bonds. There are about 2,600 journalists working for Bloomberg News now in the headquarters tower on Lexington Avenue and in major bureaus in places like Beijing, London, and Chicago (which has 22 people, last time I checked).

About 600 of these news people work for Bloomberg television, which is available on cable systems around the world. In Ho Chi Minh City last year, a young Vietnamese journalist described to me, movingly, how she and her colleagues watched the Obama inauguration on the channel. I think it was then that I began to understand that this financial data service, in which news was considered a marginal loss leader to support the lucrative terminals, was being transformed into a multi-platform, international enterprise intent on parity (at a minimum) with the Associated Press and Thomson-Reuters, in financial news of course, but also in politics and investigative reporting. The competitive edge among these enterprises for news breaks and prize-winning takeouts has started to make a difference in coverage. In its award for "exemplary reporting on social justice issues," The Sidney Hillman Foundation hailed a Bloomberg project titled "The Fight for Transparency" for being the first "to determine the true cost to the taxpayer of the Federal Bailout of Wall Street."

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Peter Osnos is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He is the founder and editor at large of PublicAffairs books and a media fellow at the Century Foundation.

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