There’s no mistaking where Andy Lack feels Bloomberg LP is positioned versus its competitors. “We may be the last man standing,” says Lack, who oversees the news organization’s multimedia operations.
A veteran of network television, Lack sits in his small office in Bloomberg’s gleaming New York headquarters, which is stocked with signs of the company’s largesse: expensive artwork, oversized fish tanks, a state-of-the-art TV studio. “Most of the other news organizations I’ve worked at are fighting the delusion factor,” says the former news executive for both CBS and NBC. “There’s enormous pressure of economics on journalism. It’s an expensive, tough game to be in.”
Awash in subscriber revenue, Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters are those truly rare things: news organizations that not only are healthy but also are on a hiring spree. Bloomberg boasts about 2,400 edit staffers, up from 2,100 three years ago, while Thomson Reuters has added 600 full-time journalists over the past four years for a total of 3,000. Each employs more newspeople than The New York Times and The Washington Post combined.
In Bloomberg’s case, the handsome newsroom salaries are legendary. “They’re spending like drunken sailors on all these top-flight journalists,” grumbles an exec at a competing media company. “It’s allowed them to corner the talent market.” That’s because Bloomberg and Reuters have something no other player in the news business does: subscription-only financial data and services that pull in billions of dollars.
Compare that to the calamitous newspaper industry, where some 13,400—about one-fourth—of newsroom jobs were lost between 2006 and 2010, according to Pew’s State of News Media 2012 report. As that carnage continues, consumers remain steadfast in their refusal to pay for news online—and news outfits are left scrambling to figure out a profitable future.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg and Reuters, with the vast majority of their journalism paid for by non-advertising revenue, are already there. With their global footprint and vast distribution system, they are an enviable model. While print brands still struggle to adapt their content to digital platforms, these companies are churning out articles and sharing editorial costs across multiple outlets, from Web to TV to print. “This is the newsroom of the future, where television, print and digital are really connected,” says Larry Kramer, founder of CBS MarketWatch. “Each one may not have to be profitable, but they will all contribute.”
News is actually a relatively small factor in the bottom line of both Bloomberg and Reuters. While there are key differences between the two companies—Bloomberg is private and has only been in the news business for a couple of decades, while Thomson Reuters is public and has a news operation dating back to the mid-1800s—both have financial services at their center. News is a core part of their offerings, but it is their subscription-based businesses and financial intelligence that contribute the bulk of their revenue—82 percent for Bloomberg, 90 percent for Reuters. Apart from financial services, Reuters has its subscription-basedlegal and tax and accounting units. For its part, Bloomberg has been expanding into new businesses, including Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Government.
With their outsized role in the news ecosystem, the companies also raise some thorny questions about the future of journalism. On the one hand, their deep pockets subsidize content that might not otherwise see the light of day. Bloomberg, for example, will lose an estimated $20 million this year on the magazine Bloomberg Businessweek. And the global presence of both Bloomberg and Reuters is formidable, as other news outlets have been forced to gut or shutter their overseas operations.
Yet the core news content produced by the two companies is not exactly what one would call public-interest journalism. Rather, it is made up of stories geared to making, as one critic puts it, “a handful of people even richer.”
All that hiring is not doing much to support reporting on the local level, Bloomberg’s enlisting of statehouse reporters and Reuters’ year-old news service Reuters America notwithstanding. Most significantly, more bodies in the newsroom does not necessarily translate to more influence, since Bloomberg and Reuters’ content is mainly distributed digitally to their subscribers. As Rick Edmonds, a media analyst for Poynter, puts it: “It’s good they’re hiring. On the other hand, if 20 superstars are hired by these organizations, you won’t have as [many] people seeing those stories.”
The perception that the companies are just in business for the wealthy is something Bloomberg and Reuters are sensitive about. Investigative journalism is “incredibly important,” says Stephen Adler, editor in chief of Reuters News, who has built up an investigative team with several marquee hires. Matt Winkler, the bow-tied editor in chief of Bloomberg News, points to his news organization’s investigation of secret federal loans to banks that was disseminated across all its platforms, potentially reaching millions. “These stories were shared with the world,” he declares.