One Career Just Isn’t Enough
New York mayor and Bloomberg News founder Michael Bloomberg receives the press club’s president’s award.
BY PATT MORRISON
There isn’t a Mr. Associated Press, nor is there a Mr. UPI. But there is a Mr. Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg, and the news service that bears his name is only one of the incarnations of a life that has rounded the bases of success in virtually every field that matters in the big stadium of American life. Bloomberg and Matthew Winkler, the editor in chief of Bloomberg News, are receiving the Los Angeles Press Club’s President’s Award for Impact on Media. Bloomberg was born on Valentine’s Day in 1942. His escape velocity from his middle-class home in his hometown of Medford, Mass., took him to Johns Hopkins University and then to Harvard for his MBA. He worked his way through school by parking cars and with student loans, which presumably he has paid off by now.
He was a partner at Salomon Brothers by the age of 30, the founder of his own startup in a one-room office by age 40, a billionaire by age 50, mayor of New York by age 60, and a billion-dollar philanthropist by age 70.
Still, for our purposes here, his most important career pivot was birthing Bloomberg News.
It began as an information service for financial news sent to computer terminals of Bloomberg subscribers, but soon the medium also embraced the message. By 1990, Bloomberg News had agreed to the terms set forth by the Washington, D.C. journalists’ news accreditation committee to become a credentialed and fully fledged news service.
Since then, Bloomberg News has gone from strength to strength, bucking the lamentable jobs trend in journalism by hanging out the “help wanted” sign for hundreds of journalists.
Today, several hundred newspapers carry its content; tens of millions of TV sets and computers carry its television news content. Its duet with the Washington Post resulted in a joint news service meant to create a synergy of political and economic news.
From there, Bloomberg News acquired television and radio stations, produced TV and radio news programs to air on them, crafted Bloomberg Television into a business news channel, and extended its reporting reach internationally with bureaus across Europe and Asia, in the fashion of the paper- and-ink newspaper empires of 40 years ago. Among other undertakings, it added BusinessWeek to its portfolio, renaming it Bloomberg Businessweek and reinvigorating the magazine that started publishing just one month before the stock market crash of 1929.
As mayor, Bloomberg, perhaps feeling the need to compete with pioneering examples in Beverly Hills and the state of California, launched his own New York City smoking ban; it was part of a number of Bloomberg health initiatives that prompted Bloomberg to make fun of the mockery they earned in an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” It marked the end of his three terms as mayor, and he said he planned to be “fulfilling a life- long dream of enjoying a small soda on a nonsmoking beach.”
In an interview with New York magazine, Bloomberg was asked about his journalist ambitions, and why his fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. “I have no idea,” Bloomberg said. “He said that he wasn’t going to get involved in it. What’s the point of owning it if you don’t? Certainly not to make money. If you wanna have fun, buy the New York Post.”
So, would he buy it? No, he said. “I would try to upscale it, and that’s what would destroy it.”
As for the print world, well, he told the magazine, “They are not good businesses. The media world is changing. Newsweek and U.S. News, two of the big newsweeklies nationwide, go out of print, and Time mag-azine’s thinner than it was before. There’s something changing. Whether it’s good or bad for democracy, whether it’s good or bad for the public, I don’t know, but it’s changing.”
In the meantime, Bloomberg News and Bloomberg Businessweek have wound up positioned alongside big players at the business news table, competing with the likes of Dow Jones and Reuters. There was, in fact, a Mr. Reuter; in the years before the telegraph, he got a jump on the competition by sending news swiftly, via the feathered equivalent of the carrier pigeons.
For Michael Bloomberg too, hope like its cousin, ambition is metaphorically what Emily Dickinson found it to be: “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”