Kelly on Bloomberg journalism, live on stage
Jason Kelly has spent his entire career reporting and writing about business.
He’s been a Bloomberg News reporter since 2002 where he’s covered private equity, global finance and technology. Before that, he worked in Atlanta for digital south magazine and the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Kelly is the author of “The New Tycoons: Inside the Trillion Dollar Industry That Owns Everything” published in 2012. He’s currently working on a second book about the business of endurance sports.
In this interview, he talks about his new role as managing editor of Bloomberg Link. (Bloomberg Link recently signed the Sohn Investment Conference.) What follows is an edited transcript.
Talking Biz News: Was it hard to make the transition from daily journalism? What do you miss? What’s better about this job?
Jason Kelly: It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. I do miss the thrill of the scoop sometimes — that flush of excitement when breaking news hits the wire and you know you got it first. But I don’t miss earnings season.
What’s better about this job? Being on stage is a lot of fun, and I like the spontaneity that comes with our format, which is journalist-driven conversations. When I’m emceeing an event, I get to run the question and answer session that comes in from the audience, and mix in my own questions.
And having been in the audience and covered many conferences as a journalist and spoken on lots of panels, it’s still amazing to me all that goes into it.
TBN: What skills from being a reporter do you apply to your job now?
JK: One of the most rewarding things about journalism, especially covering a beat, is building relationships with sources and high-level contacts. When I started covering private equity, I quickly realized it was a breakfast, lunch and dinner beat. It’s imperative to get to know people as individuals and get them to trust you. And when you’re asking someone to sit with you on stage for half an hour, that sort of care and feeding is also required.
There’s a lot of reporting and research that goes on ahead of a conference. Each interview or session is a story that should be part of a larger narrative. I want people to walk away feeling like they understand something or someone better, so we end up talking a lot about the narrative arc of the conference.
TBN: Many media companies are expanding into events, like Bloomberg Link. What does it take to do it well and what have you learned about creating good on-stage content?
JK: It’s harder than it looks! Even very successful people can shrink a little bit when they’re on stage. We try to do as much preparation as we can to establish some sort of chemistry among panelists and interviewees with the moderator (back to the preparation point). But then you have to avoid another potential challenge — leaving the best stuff in the pre-interview. You want the stage session to be spontaneous.
Also, people like to laugh. It’s an effective way to bring both the participants and the audience into the mix. Last year at a conference we do with Bloomberg Markets magazine, I referred to the relationship between Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman and JPMorgan vice chairman Jimmy Lee as a “bromance” — to them, on stage. It was something of a calculated risk. Worst case, they just think I’m being silly. Best case, it helps signal that this would be a different sort of interview. Luckily, it worked. I think.
TBN: How does this connect with your other projects?
JK: I like to think of what we do as Bloomberg journalism, live on stage. It’s another medium, among many, that Bloomberg can offer, along with print, broadcast and online. Any interview on stage can and does take many forms. It’s happening there for the audience, it’s streaming live on the terminal or sometimes carried on Bloomberg TV, and then archived. We have reporters writing stories, I might send a Tweet about something especially interesting.
Also, it’s a way to shamelessly promote my book (“The New Tycoons,” a look inside the private equity industry published in 2012). I’m only partially kidding.
As I work on my next book, which is about the business of fitness and endurance sports, I’m thinking of ways to marry the two. We do have a successful annual conference on the business of sports…
TBN: Any advice for other journalists?
JK: My free advice (worth what you pay for it)? Embrace journalism in all forms. At its core, journalism is about curiosity, and number of media seem to be expanding and evolving. Social media has had a radical impact on how we all do our jobs, as has the proliferation of video. I’m not sure if convergence is actually the right term. I do know that it demands a flexibility on our parts to tell stories through whatever medium works best.