Q&A: Bloomberg BNA editor in chief Antonelli discusses its strategy and changes
Cesca Antonelli was named editor in chief of Bloomberg BNA in July after being a senior executive editor at Bloomberg News.
In addition to government-focused news and information products, Bloomberg BNA provides news and information about the legal, tax and compliance markets.
Antonelli spent 19 years with Bloomberg News as a reporter and editor in five bureaus and ran teams around the world. At Bloomberg News, Antonelli helped build the company news coverage in the Americas and throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She was Washington bureau chief and managed the company’s global “front page,” Top Worldwide.
Shortly after becoming editor in chief at Bloomberg BNA, Antonelli implemented a restructuring that led to layoffs of 17 staffers.
Antonelli spoke Tuesday with Talking Biz News about the strategy and changes at Bloomberg BNA. What follows is an edited transcript.
What attracted you to the position at BNA?
Obviously there is a rich history of reporting at BNA, both before and after the Bloomberg acquisition. We have been around for nearly a century, covering the topics that affect policy. We cover Capitol Hill, agencies, the federal court. So it was really the breadth of the opportunity that attracted me. I had done most of my career covering business and finance news. This is a fresh perspective for me on these topics.
The challenges ahead for BNA are how we cover the news and realign the organization to support that.
How is the content that BNA produces different than what Bloomberg News produces, and how does it fit in with Bloomberg?
Both Bloomberg and Bloomberg BNA both target a professional audience, whether it is a finance professional or a government and policy professional. Their education levels are quite similar. The differences are more around topic and function. We need to be indispensable to the legal market. So our reporters are reading every major legal case in America so you don’t have to. A reporter may be reading 50 cases a day to find that one gem that you need to know about. But it’s also doing some good investigative journalism. It’s a nice balance of both.
Who are the main readers of BNA content beside government and policy people?
Lawyers, tax practitioners and of course we serve the terminal audience, so we do serve financial professionals as well. The financial audience, for example, has also been interested in our coverage of corporate visas, trying to figure out what companies can and can’t do and whether the visa process is becoming tougher for businesses.
Can you explain the organizational restructuring you put in place?
The scale of our newsroom allows us to do what our competition cannot. I feel pretty good about where we are and where we are going. We’re doubling down on our core markets. What we did was remake how we covered the legal market, where we have one group on beat reporting and one group focused on what we are calling legal intelligence. It allows us to focus on where we can be the most productive. The other thing we are really doing now is covering topics around the business of law, big law firms, the practice of AI, and the end of the billable hour changing the legal profession.
We also have a greater focus on social media, and more editing firepower. The goal across all of these teams is to be more indispensable and worth paying for.
The union wasn’t happy with the layoffs. How do you work with it moving forward?
This is a great organization. We have great benefits. We’re about to begin talks with the union. We’re prepared to work hard at the bargaining table to reach a contract that will meet the needs of the business and the employees. As to where we are now, I think we have great benefits, and it’s a positive story about how we develop and train our workers.
Do the changes in terms of coverage mean trying to attract new readers?
Both new readers and re-engage with some of our existing readers. In legal intelligence, we’re creating a team covering court actions across the country. The goal is to cut through the noise. It’s something our legal customers really need. If we can take real reporting and wrap that around legal analytics from the Bloomberg Law tool, we think we can have more great results and been more a focus of the legal community. That’s very exciting to me.
We also think that news about the big law firms and the Supreme Court, big picture takes we’re trying to do, all of that is very high value for our customers and for the broader world at large.
You’ve added some new roles in the newsroom. What is the idea behind those?
We are building a small investigative team. We will be bringing on a couple of people there. There is some high-quality work we should be doing that will help us stand out there.
We are bringing on a couple of senior editors. We have asked Bernie Kohn from Bloomberg News to come over. Jeff Harrington, the business editor of the Tampa Bay Times, will start on Monday to help run our tax coverage.
We had people with really great ideas, but in a big organization those big ideas can be buried. So I have been listening to find those big ideas to make sure that they are bubbling up at the top, and that we’re pairing those reporters with those ideas with editors to bring those ideas to life.
We’re getting some great early results. On some of our platforms, readership is up 50 percent.
What further changes do you see for 2019?
What I’d really like to see for next year is to see us execute on the plan that we put out. It’s about making sure that we are urgent, that we are relevant, that we are thorough, and that doesn’t always mean long. We need to be providing the best news and analysis for all of these markets. It’s a tall order, and we have a lot of work to do to make sure the quality of writing is consistent and fabulous.
What’s been the biggest surprise at BNA since you took over?
I’ve been most impressed with some of the scoops that we have gotten. We have some really good wins out of the Department of Labor, which is a really tough beat. We had a story about how Labor wants an early look at anything that might become controversial. We had a good story about Microsoft, which had a deal with the Department of Labor to settle some discrimination litigation. The Labor Department rescinded that deal.
So I think the quality of reporting is continuing to improve with the number of scoops that we’re getting. It’s higher than I thought it would be. It’s now about showing that across all of our platforms and social media and that people can do great work here and have a great career.