Media Moves

Bloomberg Markets editor Henkoff talks about its changes

September 20, 2010

TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE

The November issue of Bloomberg Markets, which goes on sale Oct. 1, will unveil a number of changes in the magazine.

There are new editorial sections devoted to personal wealth and careers. The rate base is jumping from 315,000 to 355,000. A new global distributor is in place to make sure it gets to readers in Europe on time. And a new ad campaign noting that the magazine is for the “global financial elite” will launch as well.

These changes are on top of a cover price increase to $5.99 in May from the previous $4.95 and a 22 percent increase in ad pages through the October issue.

Ronald Henkoff is the editor of Bloomberg Markets magazine. The awards won by reporters Henkoff has managed include Gerald Loeb, Overseas Press Club, George Polk, Sidney Hillman, Deadline Club, IRE and Foreign Press Association. Henkoff has won the Minard Award from the Loeb Foundation.

Before joining Bloomberg in 1998, Henkoff was Fortune’s Chicago bureau chief and a member of its board of editors. Prior to that, he was a correspondent for Newsweek in New York, Houston and London, where he also served as European economics editor. Henkoff holds a B.A. cum laude from Carleton College, an M.S. in journalism from Columbia and an M.A. in history from the London School of Economics.

Henkoff talked by phone Monday with Talking Biz News. What follows is an edited transcript.

Why is Bloomberg Markets making these changes now?

From an editorial perspective, we’ve looked at we’ve been doing over the past decade, and the magazine has really evolved. When I got here, it was primarily a magazine to show people how to use the Bloomberg terminal. What we’ve made it into is a showcase for the in-depth reporting and analysis that Bloomberg produces. We wanted a design and an architecture that captures the quality journalism that we’ve done.

The other thing is that we wanted a design that captures the energy and intensity and the hard-working ethic of our readers, who tend to be educated, well paid and serious financial workers. We wanted a design to capture that. So it’s a reflection of the journalism that we’ve been doing and the characteristics of our readers.

How did you decide to add sections on personal wealth and careers?

We did a survey of our readers at the end of last year. It’s the most comprehensive survey that we’ve ever done. We wanted to get a comprehensive sense of what they thought of the magazine. By and large, the news was very good because they liked the magazine. Eighty-six percent of the readers that we surveyed had read the most recent magazine. They read the features, they read the cover story and they like the magazine. So it wasn’t a question of something that was broken. But we also asked them what they wanted to see more of in the magazine.

Three topics emerged from that survey. One was emerging markets. By that I mean the BRIC countries, or Brazil, Russia, India and China. I think there’s two reasons for that. One is that our readers have a very global perspective and they want to know what’s happening in these parts of the world. These days, these countries are the engines of economic growth. And other magazines don’t have the wherewithal to cover these areas and that’s an opportunity for us. But this coverage for us was already pretty substantial.

In regards to the other two areas, the magazine has always gone to people who are involved in finance professionally, and we’ve always presented our stories from that point of view. What the survey told us was that the people were also looking to the magazine to help them manage their own personal finances, what we call wealth management. We’ve already been covering more of that.

The third area is careers. People want to know about the interesting people in finance and how they have managed their careers, so the readers can get insights into how they can manage their own careers. In the forthcoming issue, for example, we’ll have an interview with the head of recruiting from Goldman Sachs who will talk about what Goldman Sachs looks for. So those are the kinds of insights we can give.

These two additional coverage areas, we’ve taken the section of the magazine called “Ventures” and renamed it “Wealth” because they captures the spirit of what we’re trying to do. We do car reviews for automobiles at the high end, from $80,000 to $300,000. We do wine and other kinds of drinks. We do mobile gadgets. Our readers are early adapters of technology. And we will add new sections on careers and wealth management.

Is there weakness in the other business magazines?

We live in interesting times both in terms of what we cover in the world of finance, which is in tremendous upheaval, and in publishing business and financial news, which is also undergoing dramatic change. Bloomberg as a company is committed to investing in journalism and has been for the past 20 years since it started its news operations. Bloomberg News has always emphasized reporter-driven journalism. That sounds pretty basic and fundamental. But if you look at journalism today, not everybody has the same approach. The distinction between fact-based reporting journalism and opinion and commentary and blogging is not always clear.

At Bloomberg News and at Bloomberg Markets, the distinction is very clear. So I think that is a great opportunity for us. We are a monthly magazine. We’re not a Web site. We’re not a weekly magazine. People expect to get definitive journalism when they pick up the magazine about global finance, which is what Bloomberg Markets is. I think that is an opportunity for us.

I’m sure you get this question all the time, but how do you keep Bloomberg Markets different from Bloomberg BusinessWeek?

I’m surprised it took you this long to get to it. Bloomberg Markets is a magazine for global finance and the global financial elite. If you look at who reads the magazine, there is very little overlap. They get most of their information most of the time from the Bloomberg terminal itself. And many of them read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. But there’s only one financial business magazine that they read, and that’s Bloomberg Markets.

What the advertising side did when BusinessWeek became part of Bloomberg was they looked at the top 20 advertisers in both magazines, and there was no overlap. We reach different readers, and we have different advertisers.

Having said that, we do share something important, and that is we’re part of Bloomberg News and we draw on those resources. You’ll see contributions from Bloomberg BusinessWeek and Bloomberg Markets from the same journalists, but it won’t be the same story.

Could both magazines conceivable have a cover story one week about the same topic?

It’s conceivable that we would be interested in the same topic, but we have different deadlines and different strategies. We’ve both written stories about Goldman Sachs, but not the same stories. They have about three feature stories a week, and we have between eight and 11 feature stories in each issue. We do have to be mindful of what each other is doing, but I don’t see that happening. It’s not like we’re both going to have Bruce Springsteen on the cover. (Editors note: The last sentence is a reference to the week in October 1975 when Time and Newsweek both portrayed Springsteen on their covers.)

The September issue generated more than 1,000 letters for its investigation into life insurance companies. How did that story come up?

We’ve done investigative reporting almost since I have been here. It is one of those great opportunities for the magazine. We started looking at life insurance, and the reporter, David Evans, who is an experienced investigative reporter and has been here a long time, discovered that there was this program that allowed insurance companies, instead of paying people the survivors of people who had passed away with a lump sum check, they were instead getting something called a check book. But it wasn’t really a check book, and it wasn’t insured by the FDIC. It was a way for the insurance companies to hold onto the death benefits and invest that money into their corporate accounts.

There were two companies that we wrote about in particular. One is Prudential, which covers active duty and retired military. The other was MetLife, which overs civil service employees. What struck a chord was when we looked at solders who had been killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, instead of getting this lump sum payment, they were getting these so-called checkbooks.

This generated a huge amount of response from readers. We stopped counting at 1,000 e-mails, and it generated an immediate response in Washington and other places. The Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said he had no idea that it was going on. Eventually, it was decided that these life insurance companies would start paying lump sums. We got a reaction, and we got actual action.

Bloomberg is known by most people for its breaking news, but it’s also doing these long investigative pieces for the magazine. Do you hope to accomplish more awareness for these longer pieces?

That’s one of the goals of the magazine. If you look at the history of this company, it’s had this tremendous growth of providing this terminal that provides a combination or news, data and analytics. That is how the company has grown, and it has done a tremendous job of breaking news. It’s always done that well.

But what [editor in chief] Matt [Winkler] realized is that in this competitive landscape, it’s not enough to say what happened, you have to say why it happened. In the time that I have been here, 12 years, we have much more context and analysis and we’ve made this commitment to enterprise, investigative journalism. And not all of it appears in Bloomberg Markets. There’s so much more in the terminal.

How accurate was the movie “The Informant”? (Henkoff was the Fortune reporter portrayed in the 2009 film interviewing whistle blower Mark Whitacre. Matt Dimon plays Whitacre, while unknown actor Brian Gallivan plays Henkoff.)

(Laughs). The whole running monologue is an interesting device. No one knew what was going on in Mark Whitacre’s head. When he’s being interviewed in the hotel room by a journalist, that interview is me, even though they don’t say my name until later in the movie. But the things inside his head, he didn’t say those things to me.

But the whole story of the price fixing is real, and it is kind of stranger than fiction. The whole thing about putting bugs in lampshades happened. He was a secret informer for the FBI, and he was a crook. It’s just a wild story.

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