Bloomberg reporter memo lays bare the newsroom bureaucracy
To: Marty Schenker, Josh Tyrangiel
CC: D.C. Bureau
From: Dawn Kopecki
Re: Washington D.C. Bureau Restructuring
Bloomberg News is without a doubt in the midst of major shift as the news organization stumbles its way through a new media world that requires us to remain nimble and receptive to change.
Some of the issues interfering with the productivity of the D.C. bureau are fairly simple and obvious, such as the lack of a strong leader that New York editors also trust and respect. Some of the issues are fairly nuanced and complex, like a climate that makes editors and reporters afraid to speak their minds, challenge bad ideas and make bold news choices. Some of the issues impacting productivity in D.C. aren’t specific to the bureau and apply more broadly to the entire news organization.
I’ve personally been at Bloomberg News for seven years now, three of which have been in D.C., and I’ve never seen morale lower. I’ve never seen the organization more bloated, never seen more redundancy and unnecessary overlap on beats, among editors and across platforms. Few people share my opinion of reducing staff to cut through bureaucracy, but few also worked for as long as I did at one of our main and most successful competitors. If I were running the organization, I would institute a hiring moratorium, retrain and repurpose existing staff as much as possible and hire outside the organization sparingly until headcount drops through attrition by a minimum of around 20 percent. In journalism, more isn’t always better. It’s just more.
We all share the common goal of wanting Bloomberg to thrive. We all want to beat the competition. None of us want to be humiliated by a horrific error of judgment, fact or embarrassingly stupid story another colleague wrote in an attempt to get low-quality clicks. We all want to take advantage of our multiple platforms to tell our stories in the smartest, most interesting and impactful ways.
To that end, I’ve tried to compile as complete a list of issues that hamper our success as well as proposed solutions from many of the writers and editors that have been most affected by the dramatic changes in the D.C. bureau over the last few years. Many of them simply don’t trust editors in New York enough to be candid in person after last year’s layoffs, the demotions of several good political writers and after what happened to Jon Allen.
I’ve attempted to organize our colleagues concerns and ideas for solutions along two main areas that need attention: cultural and structural.
ISSUE: CLIMATE OF FEAR/DUELING NEWSROOMS
Last year’s layoffs coupled with the demotions of several senior political writers have fostered a climate of fear and mistrust that’s particularly acute in the D.C. bureau.
That’s been exacerbated by the leadership void in D.C. and what is viewed in the bureau as a lack of clear direction from New York. Naming a well-respected and
experienced journalist who has confidence from N.Y., which we hear you are working on, will be a tremendous help in that regard.
People don’t know what editors want any more, they don’t know what kinds of stories are important to pursue. Their own editors don’t know and often won’t allow reporters to pursue certain stories out of fear that they’ll be criticized for not being interesting enough or too “terminal” focused. This leads to a vicious cycle of timidity, discourages aggressive reporting and hampers our ability to break news.
(For example: we got beat on headlines on Hillary’s formal announcement by 11 minutes apparently because the web site said it would handle. “Terminal” editors were afraid to take over because they were told to back off. The entire news organization lost.)
Moving most, if not all, of the political coverage from D.C. to New York to the B-Pol website has also created the perception that D.C. talent isn’t good enough, isn’t respected and, frankly, isn’t wanted. There is a broader perception throughout the organization that “terminal” writers have largely been dismissed as unwilling or incapable of writing across different platforms. This perception has been fostered by the rapid staffing up of web writers for what’s viewed as a competing newsroom.
One web editor apparently Tweeted a few months ago that he was looking for the “best” markets writers out there, which set off an avalanche of reaction within the newsroom and among the several hundred markets writers and editors Bloomberg News already employs.
The numerous PATH listings in recent months advertising for jobs covering beats that already have teams of reporters–like education, Silicon Valley culture, management, retail and tech companies–have apparently been posted without any discussion with the current “Terminal” team editors and reporters that already cover those areas.
The dueling newsrooms has fostered a environment of fear throughout the organization where people generally feel like they will eventually lose their jobs because Bloomberg News doesn’t think they can write in a breezy, consumer-friendly style or because it won’t take the time to train them how to adapt to a new platform.
The current climate at Bloomberg News has led to: low morale, reduced productivity, high employee turnover (especially in D.C.), difficulty recruiting, increased expenses to recruit and attract talent, reputational risks, increased litigation risks (ie.: Megan Hughes).
The steps announced yesterday in D.C. were a very positive development. The view has been that people in D.C. are more than happy to write for the web site but the web site editors have very little interest in working with anyone outside of their own hires. Utilize or retrain existing talent before hiring reporters and editors outside.
ISSUE: WHAT STANDARDS?
The standards are not the same for the writing, fact-checking, source approval or actual standards reviews across all platforms. That fosters a lot of resentment and an us-versus-them mentality throughout the organization. No one liked our old writing restrictions, or even believed many of them made sense. But many feel the pendulum has swung a little too far with the web site and the new political show.
“When your kids hear about Bloomberg in an unflattering light and call you up at work to ask what on earth is going on i.e. Google ‘Ted Cruz interview,’ we are very much outside the Bloomberg standards we once knew.”
Apply standards consistently across all platforms or, at the very least, require everyone to adhere to basic journalistic standards, like fact-checking. When mistakes are made and errors end up in print, employees should be treated the same. If a Terminal writer would have been fired for an embarrassing factual error, the same should apply to other platforms. If a story needs to be corrected, it should be corrected in the same manner. Web stories that are inaccurate shouldn’t just disappear. We should own both our wins as well as our errors so we are reminded of and learn from our mistakes.
At Bloomberg News, we have multiple production methods, multiple teams doing similar things and a lot of overlap that hampers the reporting and editing process, makes us less competitive and reduces our ability to break news. Reporters have very little autonomy and often lose control of their sources, their stories and their beats.
The top-down-bottom-up management approach at Bloomberg may work on Wall Street, but it contradicts the very nature of how news is gathered. News starts, especially if you want to break it, with carefully cultivated relationships between a reporter and their sources. Once news breaks, it’s up to the individual reporters to advance that story and continue revealing more information, not the editor who sits 4 layers of management over them and weighs in 12 hours or 2 days after a story’s been filed and edited. We employ 1 editor and/or manager for every 1.18 reporters and writers at Bloomberg News.
Breaking original, exclusive news cannot be done by committee. It’s done by reporters. Respect for the reporter’s autonomy and relationships with their sources has been almost completely lost at Bloomberg News, with the rare exception of a few teams like Deals and Eco that have successfully navigated around our system.
ISSUE: TOO MANY FIEFDOMS
In D.C. alone, we have an Economic Analysis team, an Economic U.S. Indicators team and a BI Economics team that’s trying to push “Bloomberg Economic Analysis.” These teams all write on very similar and sometimes the same topics. There’s a lot of “cannibalization and overlap” without an “overall standard, coherent point of view.”
We also have a Commodities Industry (which covers companies), a Commodities Markets (which covers commodities markets, but not companies), and a Commodities/Energy Editors team in New York. All of these teams write and edit essentially the same issues, but reporting is artificially delineated along absurd lines that don’t make any sense since a reporter covering oil companies has to understand what’s going on with OPEC and vice versa.
The same can be said of the Finance team , Financial Crimes team and Financial Regulation teams. We have TWO DOJ reporters, one on the Financial Crimes team who’s technically not allowed to write or report on non-financial crimes and another who’s allowed to write about everything else except for the crimes that our biggest clients commit. Both reporters are very good, but reporting should take you to wherever the story takes you. You shouldn’t feel restricted from asking a source questions about a topic just because you’re not allowed to write about it.
The problem often stems from the editors themselves. While reporters often enjoy working with colleagues on other teams, the TLs and MEs that run their teams often (not always) discourage cross team collaboration. If one team has a writer that excels at one area of coverage, the other team will often create the almost IDENTICAL position on their team, creating bureaucracy, fostering unhealthy competition and interfering with the ability of either reporter to properly work their sources and beat due to constant overlap.
This also creates situations where we often have multiple editors weighing in on stories. We have too many editors who are not being properly utilized and who simply slow down the edit process without noticeable benefits.
Dismantle the TL/ME structure. Take away whatever incentives managers have for hoarding talent. Reassign TLs and MEs do more first-line editing, instead of just weighing in on stories in conference calls and meetings. Those editors could be retrained to repurpose stories across multiple platforms, reducing the need for redundant reporting staff and reducing the number of editors who weigh in on each story.
ISSUE: DC REDUNDANCIES
DC has redundant staffing between First Word DC, Congress Tracker and terminal writers and editors.
They should be combined into one staff of reporters and editors who can do it all for the different platforms instead of working in segregated silos. This would allow us to cover more agencies, subject beats that we had to give up in staff reductions (trade, govt contracts, rail and trucking regulations, labor, etc.) and break more news. Terminal reporters and editors contribute regularly to BFW and know how to write in their format.
This should be a two-way street. First Word and Congress Tracker should write BN stories. Many are subject matter experts in Congress, aerospace, etc.
ISSUE: WEB SITE OVERLAP
The web site is apparently hiring its own reporters to cover Wall Street and financial markets.
Instead of hiring a separate newsroom of reporters, retrain a handful of existing writers on those teams on how to write for the web, assign an editor to work with them to help rewrite existing news. This would work out better both in cutting through the bureaucracy and in reducing expenses (thus avoiding layoffs down the road).
ISSUE: HANDLING BREAKING NEWS NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
The team structure for breaking news, with the exception of a handful of teams where a specific expertise is required like Deals or Eco, often doesn’t work because it is often difficult to find an editor to send headlines, especially when reporters are out on assignment. Reporters don’t always know which editors are at their desk when they are on assignment and news breaks. If they do, they may not have their direct phone number, they can’t tell if an editor is away from their desk to get coffee or use the restroom. A 24/7 desk would ensure that stories and headlines don’t get delayed because someone got up to stretch their legs.
Create a breaking news edit up similar to the enterprise edit hub. This hub should be manned 24/7 on each continent with a skeleton crew for overnight shifts. The hubs should have a centralized toll free number, email address and mechanism to file stories directly to the breaking news edit hub for each continent.
Dow Jones, Reuters and other major competitors are structured in this way and often beat us on unexpected breaking news as a result, even on stories where we significantly outgun them in reporters and editors.
ISSUE: WEEKEND STAFFING IN D.C.
Due to staffing cuts, weekend duties in the DC bureau falls on the shoulders of the same 10 deputy team editors so that each is rotating once a month on weekends in addition to their regular work. The Weekend ME now requires two additional DC editors in the office every Saturday in addition to every Sunday. Nothing happens on Saturday. We have very little readership and we’re often paying editors to kill time by surfing the Web.
We should either 1. staff the weekends properly, 2. scale back this initiative or 3. include team leaders, editors at large and others so it’s distributed more evenly. This has weighed down morale of the editing staff tremendously.
ISSUE: SOURCE APPROVAL
Getting source approval from higher up editors ONLY serves to help justify their salaries and slow down the news writing, editing and breaking process. This unnecessary extra hurdle has resulted on us getting beat on stories, stories that were accurate to begin with because the reporters Bloomberg News employs are good and know their sources well. The process has long been known as CYA insurance for senior managers who don’t want to take ownership if a correction is needed later.
If the public found out that Bloomberg News requires us to write memos and place the names of confidential sources in emails to senior editors, no one worth talking to would ever give us information. At the end of the day, source approval comes down to basic trust of the reporter anyway. Reporters could fabricate who their sources are and editors wouldn’t have any idea, ie. Jayson Blair.
(We got beat on a story about one a large company fine because the EE was at dinner and not checking his blackberry to approve the sourcing, which
came at around 7 p.m. The New York Times had their headlines out a full 18 minutes before we did as a result.)
SOLUTION: Trust your reporters. This is why you hired them. You could also delineate between seasoned reporters who have a lot of experience with anonymous sources and at least give them more latitude.
ISSUE: TOO MANY COOKS IN THE KITCHEN
Dow Jones has 2,000 journalists. Reuters has 2,600 and covers more than just business news. The Associated Press has 3,400 employees worldwide, including technical and support staff. We have 2,779 journalists, according to a rough estimate on MTEAM.
No one is going to like this idea, but head count needs to be reduced across the board, especially in the management layer. It can, however, be done without layoffs and in a way that maximizes existing resources, minimizes disgruntled employees, saves the company reputational risk, reduces negative press and saves the company money.
1. Stop hiring new people: Impose a hiring moratorium across the board and add outside employees sparingly. Advertise jobs more broadly internally and prioritize in-house talent over external talent unless the external candidate is fantastic or has a particular set of skills we don’t have internally.
2. Offer buyouts: The buyouts will cost more in the short-run but save the company money in potential litigation and reputation costs down the road.
3. Attrition: Eliminate positions as people leave the company over the next two/three years. If the function or beat is a core area of coverage, look for an internal candidate before hiring outside.
ISSUE: WHO DOES WHAT?
We have such vast resources at Bloomberg that we often don’t realize that other colleagues could be tremendously helpful, or might need to be consulted, on a particular story. It can take hours, sometimes days into reporting, to realize that we have a Bloomberg Industries analyst who has written extensively on the topic we’re researching or that another colleague has already interviewed the source we’re trying to track down.
Create a company directory that is searchable by functions and responsibilities. To promote cross-team and cross-platform collaboration, the company would be well served by creating a searchable company directory that lists employees by their responsibilities and areas of expertise. This would also serve a second extremely important function by giving senior managers a bird’s eye view of redundancies and areas where teams could be consolidated or talent could be deployed elsewhere.
Ideally, the directory would allow you to type in a topic, company name or individual (ie: climate change, Space X or Rupert Murdoch) and it would bring up a list of all the Bloomberg terminal, web site, magazine and TV/radio reporters and editors who have responsibility for that area of coverage.
This would save time and ensure more efficient collaboration in reporting out breaking stories. Reporters would be identified by their primary beat or general area of coverage, the companies, industries or personalities they are responsible for covering, as well as secondary areas of interest or overlap with other reporters.
Editors would be listed by the teams they are on as well as all of the topics that they are primarily responsible for. TLs, MEs and EEs would be identified by the subject areas tied to the individuals within their group.
The directory would encompass these groups, at a minimum.
• BLOOMBERG EDITORIAL
• BLOOMBERG BUSINESS
• FIRST WORD
• BLOOMBERG MARKETS
• BLOOMBERG PURSUITS
• BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK
• BLOOMBERG INTELLIGENCE
• BLOOMBERG TV
• BLOOMBERG RADIO
• BLOOMBERG VIEW
• BLOOMBERG BNA
ISSUE: WORD PRESS VS. COPY
We have some people creating content via word/copy, some using WordPress for the web. We should focus on a standard method. Bloomberg employees also use different email systems and don’t always check their Bloomberg terminal messages in a timely fashion.
If COPY is inefficient, we should all move to WordPress or add the features in WordPress to COPY. Migrate all Bloomberg users to a single email system.
ONE LAST ISSUE: WOMEN IN DC
Most of the bureau managers are white men and there are many subtle ways that they exclude or adversely impact women they manage. They leave women off distribution lists, don’t invite them to meetings about subjects directly in their wheelhouse and walk right by them when they are editing stories to ask questions of a team leader instead.
There is also the sense that these male managers look out for the men on their staff and that may translate into better reviews for them than women, despite metrics and other performance measures. Almost ALL of the political writers who were demoted and/or driven out were women.