Matt Winkler inteview: Bloomberg's media legend is not done yet

Journalist has helped transform the news landscape

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The Independent Online

Don’t be fooled by the bowtie. Traditionally the neckwear choice of academics, raffish fops and struggling children’s entertainers, it’s also the trademark of the less-than-cheery Matt Winkler.

Moved out of his role as editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News this week after nearly 25 years, Winkler, 59, has already entered media mythology. Hired by Michael Bloomberg in 1989, he co-founded Bloomberg News the following year, transforming what was a niche financial service employing a handful of people into an international media empire operating 150 bureaus in 73 countries and employing 2,400. When it comes to reporting the news, he wrote the book. Literally. The Bloomberg Way is the news service’s Bible. It’s part style guide, part inspirational tract, and woe betide the journalist who departs from it.

Words like “but” and “however” are “discouraged”. Adjectives and adverbs are frowned upon. Winkler’s particular approach to language has inspired a Tumblr, Strange Bloomberg Headlines (“Grandpa’s Dentures Tame Inflation in Singapore, For Now”).

Elsewhere in The Bloomberg Way, reporters are reminded of the “Five Fs of quality reporting: factual, first, fastest, final and future”.

Sometimes the rhetoric moves from Blairite to Orwellian. After one hapless journalist blamed a technical error for the wrong story being published, Winkler informed him it was not the computer’s fault: “The enemy is the human.”His weekly emails of bad journalistic practice were gleefully circulated. One weak pun on Bloomberg TV was blasted for being “puerile, obscure and uninformative”. A tweet was found to have no fewer than three errors in it.

Winkler, who spent 10 years as a reporter on the Wall Street Journal, is aware of his reputation. In a newspaper interview he acknowledged that “tyranny was always bad”. He even attempted to show his optimistic, perhaps even sentimental side: “I think it’s the greatest time to be a journalist, because, like the song says, we have the whole world in our hands.” He was actually misquoting a gospel song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”.

Those who have worked with him more recently say the fearsome reputation is now more the stuff of “myth and legend”, and he has mellowed. Any newsroom outbursts were always about his passion for journalism, and were “never personal”, insiders say.

Rumours about the Bloomberg offices abound. While it has the “break out areas”, the free snacks and the bland assurances of community involvement, this isn’t Google. Through ID passes and keystrokes, every move an employee makes is tracked. It is said that an electronic system notes when a keyboard has been inactive for 15 minutes, leaving some employees apparently too nervous to leave their desks.

As for the decision to move Winkler, that came straight from the top. After 12 years as New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg is back in charge of the entire organisation and he’s ready to make some changes. He has brought in The Economist’s John Micklethwait as editor-in-chief.

Famously anyone who leaves Bloomberg can never return. But then Winkler himself isn’t quite leaving; officially he’s been given a new position as emeritus editor-in-chief, with promises of working on “strategic initiatives”. Perhaps those working in Bloomberg’s open plan cage shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief, or go on a 15-minute lunch break, just yet.

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