Justin Smith is CEO of Bloomberg Media Group. / Bloomberg
It's one of the great examples of a struggling old-school journalism operation making an impressive transition to the digital world.
You don't get much more legacy media than Atlantic Media, as in the venerable, deep-dive magazine The Atlantic. But under the leadership of Justin Smith, the company became a nimble player in the digital space with commentary/aggregation site The Wire (formerly The Atlantic Wire) and business site Quartz. And, in a dramatic turnaround, the money-bleeding media outfit moved into the black.
Now Smith, who left Atlantic to become CEO of Bloomberg Media last year, is beginning to make his moves at his new venue. Bloomberg is taking a major plunge into the political news business, with big-name journalists at the helm.
Mark Halperin, of Time magazine, and John Heilemann, of New York magazine, are jumping ship to launch Bloomberg Politics. The writers, who teamed up to write the political best sellers Game Change and Double Down and are fixtures as MSNBC pundits, will oversee a politics-themed website and anchor a daily show on Bloomberg TV that also will be streamed online.
Now Bloomberg is hardly a basket case. The company is hugely successful, thanks to those Bloomberg financial terminals that are essential if you need to keep on top of market-moving developments. And Bloomberg News is not exactly a small start-up. More than 2,400 journalists provide material for bloomberg.com, Bloomberg TV, Bloomberg Businessweek, etc.
But as successful as it has been as a must-read for financial insiders, it has hardly had a similar impact when it comes to regular news consumers.
That's where Smith comes in.
His mission is to dramatically expand the reach with new verticals featuring rich, detailed coverage of specific topics. Bloomberg Politics is just the first. "We have a new, aggressive vision for what our media products can be going forward, and Bloomberg Politics is the model for how we will be re-architecting our approach to consumer media," Smith said in a statement. (A spokesman said he was not available for an interview.)
With his initial foray, Smith is following the increasingly popular route of building around star journalists with well-know brands.
When eBay founder Pierre Omidyar decided to create an entirely new $250 million news operation, he turned to Glenn Greenwald, of Edward Snowden saga fame. ESPN and Vox Media are building major new initiatives respectively around stats wizard Nate Silver, formerly of The New York Times, and policy wonk to the stars Ezra Klein, late of The Washington Post. Yahoo is banking on Katie Couric to bring it success in the video business.
The company won't say how many new verticals are coming or when they will materialize. But Bloomberg is hardly playing small ball. Witness Smith's proclamation when he outlined his strategy in March: "We want to become the indispensable source of information for the world's most influential people." Expect a number of additional launches this year.
Bloomberg Politics' home initially will be a stand-alone site that is part of the Bloomberg network. Halperin and Heilemann will oversee not just the new initiative but political coverage across all of Bloomberg's platforms, and Bloomberg News reporters will contribute to the new site. More hires are anticipated for the venture, but the company won't say how many.
If Bloomberg Politics gets off to a fast start when it debuts later this year, that will be good news indeed for the company. Bloomberg News was on the receiving end of some bad publicity last year when it decided to spike an investigative piece about the financial connections between one of the richest men in China and the families of top Chinese leaders. And a number of top political editors have left the company in recent months.
The terrain Bloomberg will be exploring in its new single-topic vertical is hardly uncharted. Politico makes a living covering every political machination, no matter how tiny, and there are plenty of other players in the field. It will be important for Bloomberg Politics to differentiate itself from the ample competition. But having two ultra-insiders running things can't hurt.
Most important, Bloomberg Politics marks the first of what will ultimately be many new Bloomberg enterprises joining the growing roster of news start-ups. And that's something to celebrate.
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Rieder: Bloomberg's big plunge into political coverage