Champagne flowed on Nov. 18 as Hong Kong’s business elite gathered with top Bloomberg LP executives at a dinner for 100 guests at a cultural center in a former British colonial military complex.
Daniel Doctoroff, the company’s chief executive and the steward of the business empire behind the wealth of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had flown in to toast a corporate milestone: In 20 years, sales of Bloomberg’s financial data terminals in Hong Kong had ballooned into a business bringing in more than half a billion US dollars a year.
However, behind the celebration were some troubling developments. The growth of Bloomberg’s terminal sales worldwide had softened over the last several years and had dropped significantly in the last year in China, a vast untapped market. Bloomberg News’ tough reporting last year about China had prompted officials to cancel subscriptions for the lucrative terminals, frustrating the company’s Beijing sales staff.
Just blocks from last week’s celebratory dinner, at the Hong Kong bureau of Bloomberg News, anxious journalists were still dealing with the implications of a decision by top editors weeks earlier not to publish a hard-hitting article about a Chinese tycoon. Bloomberg employees had asserted in published reports that Matthew Winkler, the editor-in-chief, had justified killing the piece, citing concerns that Bloomberg journalists would be expelled from China in retaliation.
Later that night, just hours after Doctoroff raised his glass, the company confirmed that one of the writers of the article was no longer an employee.
As Michael Bloomberg prepares to leave office and resume a more direct role in the company he founded, he rejoins an operation whose core business, after two decades of heady growth, has slowed, and whose news division has more than doubled since he left. Interviews with current and former employees show that the business and news operations exist in uneasy tension, and occasionally collide.
Bloomberg suddenly faces newsroom layoffs, a shift in emphasis back to financial news and skepticism from the business side that investigative journalism might not be worth the potential problems it could create for terminal sales.
Winkler and other senior editors denied that the article from China was killed, saying it was still active, but not ready for publication. The episode, however, brought more unwanted attention after embarrassing revelations this spring that some reporters had used a function on the terminals to monitor some customer activity, angering some of Bloomberg’s biggest clients.
Against this backdrop, some top executives have begun to question the role of the company’s news operation. Executives on the business side insist that short bursts of market-moving news, not prize-winning investigative journalism, are what Bloomberg’s paying customers want. Editors are increasingly asked to send only brief, bullet-point news reports to terminals — easily digestible facts for traders and hedge fund managers.
“To the bankers that run the place, you have a redheaded stepchild that is a rounding error in the scheme of things that is managing to create a lot of trouble,” one news employee said.
This person, like the more than two dozen current and former business and news executives interviewed for this article, agreed to discuss the company’s operations, but insisted on anonymity, citing strict nondisclosure agreements.