New Delhi: Matthew Winkler has built Bloomberg News into one of the world’s pre-eminent news organizations in the two decades since he founded it. As editor-in-chief, he leads a team of close to 2,000 journalists in about 150 bureaus around the world, filing more than 5,000 stories a day. Winkler, who was in India recently for work and a brief holiday, spoke in an interview about what it took to reach where Bloomberg News is today, what the future holds, the Businessweek acquisition, and studying the guitar, among other subjects. Edited excerpts:
You head what has come to become one of the world’s most influential news organizations. What do you attribute this success to?
Mostly hard work. It always comes through in the end, no matter what the business model is. You can’t succeed without hard work. The distinguishing characteristic of Bloomberg News from inception was that we always worked hard and we still do.
News focus: Winkler says Bloomberg’s commitment to accuracy makes it faster, smarter and better. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
How do you and ‘Bloomberg’ handle this responsibility of being one of the world’s most influential news companies?
With great care. I would say also with great difficulty. The bigger it gets, the more responsibility there is. But we are fortunate in that from the very beginning we aspired to have a set of best practices—how we do what we do—and that ensures no matter how much we grow, those practices, which we refer to as the “Bloomberg way”, govern the way we do things.
We are lucky our business model really emanates from the Bloomberg terminal itself, in that we began having to satisfy, if you will, the people with the most at stake around the world. And those people are arguably the most demanding… We have to deliver 24x7. With practice, we get a little bit better every year, and here we are.
Matthew Winkler, Editor in chief of Bloomberg News, talks about his organisations and how he sees its Indian operations.
Where do you go from here? What’s your vision for ‘Bloomberg’?
There isn’t really anything we are doing right now that we can’t improve on. We have enormous responsibility to cover all kinds of markets everywhere. There are markets that have yet to be developed, that we have to report on. There is unlimited opportunity for us.
Does this include the emerging markets?
Absolutely. There are more emerging markets than we can count.
Is there a specific focus on India?
Absolutely. You could argue India is the world’s greatest democracy, certainly in a numerical sense. And you know, wherever you see a great democracy, you see markets, you see emerging capital. For India and for us, it is a sort of a marriage that gets better by the day.
Japan is waning and China is growing. Does that reflect in the sale of ‘Bloomberg’ terminals or news?
We are as committed to Japan as we have ever been. For all of the lethargy of the economy for the past decade and a half, Japan has world-class companies, world-class markets. We don’t see that changing. So it is hugely important to us. And I would say the same thing about emerging China. The robust capitalism that we see in so many different industries is something that’s going to be challenging us in perpetuity.
What about the demand for terminals in emerging markets?
None of us are prescient enough at Bloomberg to be able to forecast accurately what the success rate is going to be in each country. What we do know is this, that these are markets we have to report on every day. Whether the demand is coming from within these countries or it is coming from elsewhere, we know the demand is going to be there.
What is your view on the future of news in the age of Twitter and camera phones?
We like to say at Bloomberg: “If it isn’t true, it isn’t news.” And so for us, the challenge in the age of spontaneous expression, where people can say anything and they can deliver instantly, is to be the news organization that never fails to report the most-accurate, complete event as it unfolds. That, to me, is the big challenge for the entire profession.
Would you vote for speed or accuracy?
We are always concerned about accuracy above all else. We happen to think that our commitment to accuracy actually makes us faster, smarter, better. All our energy is on being the first word. To us, the first word means it has to be accurate.
‘Bloomberg’ is said to have commoditized news and made it a formula.
I wish it was so easy. For us, the challenge in every single story is figuring out what the surprise is...and that’s our goal. And every single day, there is no set formula in figuring out the surprise other than knowledge, skill, intelligence, all sorts of things that come into the mix. I doubt that if you do news the way it should be reported, it is a commodity business.
The ‘Businessweek’ acquisition has been a success editorially. Has it started making commercial sense?
The numbers for the Bloomberg Businessweek magazine are all going in the right direction. Businessweek, as it was once called, was a consistently loss-making enterprise. We were determined to make sure that the quality and integrity of this wonderful product will be enhanced, which we, I think, have succeeded in doing. I can now say, (a) couple of years after the acquisition, that we have cut the losses more than half and we are on our way in the next couple of years to taking it to a profit-making successful weekly. As soon as we acquired Businessweek, we were able to immediately give the magazine almost 1,900 reporters and editors and make them available to this magazine. We gave (it) all the editorial resources that Bloomberg brings every day to the terminal. That was an enormous benefit to Businessweek and a huge cost saving for a magazine that covers the world of business globally every week.
Does ‘Businessweek’ rely on advertising or subscription?
Both. And both the advertising numbers and the subscription or circulation have gone up significantly since we bought the magazine. Adweek voted Businessweek among the hot magazines of the year, including its creative director who was the hottest creative director of the year. We are getting recognition in the ad community.
Are you looking at changing your partner in Bloomberg UTV, the television business here?
We are really happy with the way our television has developed here. If we can leverage our reporting skills here to the television platform, we think we’ve got a product that will be perceived in time as exceptional and we think we are going in the right direction with our television here.
No immediate plans of changing partners then?
We’re steady as she goes; happy with what we’ve done today. We know we can make it better.
What excites you the most about the news business?
I can’t wait to read the stories. I can’t wait to report. The big thrill for me every day at Bloomberg is with the story-in-the-making, what’s the headline going to be. I can’t get more satisfaction than I do from that every day.
You still go out for interviews?
Yeah, I’m just an old-fashioned newspaper guy. That’s all I am. (During his trip to India, Winkler interviewed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, chief executive officers and top government officials.)
Any recent innovations you’d like to throw light on?
We introduced in the past year more than a dozen daily credit market columns in countries. These columns couldn’t have come at a better time because I think it’s clear that if there’s one word right now that’s more important than any other in news, it’s probably the word “debt”.
We’ve introduced 12 new columns this year and there’s more coming next year. I’m just saying that this is innovative in the sense that it demands enormous access to data, which we do at Bloomberg. We compile enormous quantities of data from everywhere, and our ability to take the data and use it to reveal instant perspective and insight about where a country is in the perception of international investors in the sense of credit, is a very valuable one, which makes the reporting essential for policymakers, for investors and for people who are trying to understand, from one day to the next, what’s up, what’s down and why.
You’re sometimes cited for your anger. Are you comfortable with that tag?
Not especially. I don’t think anger is a particularly useful way of motivating people.
Are you still studying the guitar?
I still am, with difficulty. It’s been on and off from adolescence, but I took it up seriously in my late 40s and I’ve been trying to be more devoted in my older years.
Will you be launching any new product in India?
I wouldn’t be surprised to see us do reporting from here that is specific to India that hasn’t been done yet, and I’ll just say, watch this space because it’s coming for sure to a Bloomberg near you.