Thursday, December 31, 2009

An All-Bloomberg BusinessWeek Cover


I haven't actually seen the new issue of BusinessWeek out today, but the online version indicates something of a historical moment: for the first time since Bloomberg L.P. took over the magazine, the cover story and its sidebars were all written by staffers from the wire, not the magazine.

What they produced was provocative and needed to be told, describing how the Street has defeated Wall Street reforms. Certainly the cover (left) is as hard-hitting as anything the magazine might have produced in its heyday.

I particularly liked the sidebar describing (a bit too briefly) how the SEC has watered down reforms.

A longer version of the same story appeared on the wire, and was not linked from the far briefer BW account. That's a reversal of the usual wire service equation, with magazines providing full accounts and the wires providing summaries. Obviously there's more space on the wire, thanks to the falloff in advertising under the former regime, and I wonder if BW going to morph into some kind of "Bloomberg Digest." If so, the online edition of the magazine should link to fuller versions appearing on the wire.

Another change has to do with the writing style. Like most newsmagazines, BW has traditionally brought to the table a strong point of view. Sometimes that point of view is wrong ("Death of Equities") but the magazine always, or most of the time, or ideally, took a stance.

In this cover package there is less analysis than would have been common in the past. The cover language carves out a position that is not explicitly stated in the articles. The final paragraph of the cover story, which ordinarily states the magazine's view, is largely a quote representing the viewpoint of others:

A failure wouldn't surprise frustrated lawmakers disappointed by the turn in Washington. "My greatest fear for the last year has been an economic collapse," says Representative Brad Miller (D-N.C), who sits on Frank's House Financial Services Committee. "My second greatest fear was that the economy would stabilize and the financial industry would have the clout to defeat the fundamental reforms that our nation desperately needs. My greatest fear seems less likely...but my second greatest fear seems more likely every day."
The magazine takes no position. Now that's objective, but magazines aren't objective. It's a different kind of journalism. It was not uncommon in the past for the same writers of the main stories to weigh in with an opinion piece or "commentary," which stated the view of the magazine as well as the writer. There was also an editorial page, though that was eliminated a while back as a cost savings.

Compare the latest cover story to this one by Peter Coy, which I chose at random from back in August, "The Case for Optimism." The title itself presents a viewpoint. The concluding paragraph reads:

The case for optimism is really a case for being open-minded—giving due weight to the possibility that things will get better than you think. Of course, no one really knows. But rational optimism, along with a pinch of Mary Pruitt-style enthusiasm, just might go a long way.

You may agree or disagree, but you knew where BW stood.

Apart from the writing style, this all-Bloomberg-wire effort further substantiates that the BW acquisition is fulfilling a major editorial function for Bloomberg, by giving its reporters a forum for their best work.

© 2009 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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