Matthew Winkler, co-founder and editor-in-chief emeritus of Bloomberg news, discussed his career and the state of modern journalism in a Tuesday event at the Missouri School of Journalism.
Bloomberg News, founded in 1990, now has more than 2,700 journalists in 120 countries.
Winkler spoke with two MU students, Uliana Pavlova and Rob Jones, in an hour-long question-and-answer session at the Reynolds Journalism Institute on Tuesday afternoon.
He said his fascination with the news started with his first job, as a paper delivery boy when he was 11, and has persisted through a long career building one of the premier sources of financial and economic news around the world. That fascination was born primarily of curiosity, he said.
“I could ask all the questions I wanted, and somebody would cut me a check at the end of the week,” Winkler said.
He cut his teeth at Bond Buyer, a New York-based trade publication, but longed for a job at the Wall Street Journal — a paper, at the time, that he felt was the best written and edited in the country. He showed up unsolicited at the paper, and handed over his resume and clips, asking for a job. He received a letter shortly thereafter from the managing editor saying, “We have no openings for you now or in the future.”
That editor was proven wrong when Winkler got a job at the Journal in 1980. He worked there for 10 years, until he agreed to start Bloomberg News as an extension of Bloomberg L.P., the financial software and data company.
“I wouldn’t have dared to imagine — and I didn’t dare, we didn’t dare — that we would be as successful as we’ve become,” Winkler said. “We were too busy, actually, thinking about literally what was in front of us every day, and getting it done.”
What ultimately led to Bloomberg News’ success was the vision the founders had, Winkler said, in anticipating the internet as a base for a news organization before others did. The stories were published across Bloomberg’s network of computer terminals around the world. It was a network, available 24/7. It was “the internet before the internet,” Winkler said.
Other journalists thought he was nuts at first, Winkler said. They thought he was throwing away a promising career at the Wall Street Journal.
On Wall Street at the time, there was another company, called Blumberg, that sold stationary. In the early years, when Bloomberg reporters called sources they would sometimes be told: “We don’t need any more stationary! Stop calling here!”
Everything began to change when Bloomberg tried, and initially failed, to get accredited by the government to cover major economic news, Winkler said. They kept asking him, “Where are you published?” and he had to try to explain that they were an electronic newspaper.
“We don’t have a criteria for you,” he was told.
Bloomberg gave a terminal to The New York Times for free, telling the Times it was free to publish stories it found worthy. Winkler told the accrediting board Bloomberg would be published in New York City by the Times, and Bloomberg received its credentials.
One day later, Winkler said, Bloomberg got about 40 requests from different metropolitan papers asking for the same deal the Times had.
“Overnight, we were suddenly syndicated,” he said.
The initial goal for Bloomberg News, Winkler said, was to provide for terminal clients all of the reporting that the Associated Press or Dow Jones wire services were providing. Eventually, a client reached out and asked to pay for the terminal without having to pay for Dow Jones because they felt they were already getting that news from Bloomberg.
At that moment, Winkler said, they knew they were going to accomplish what they’d set out to do.
“We never met a business story we didn’t like. We never saw an economy we didn’t want to cover,” Winkler said. “To us, that has always been our story — the economy, markets, investors, prosperity, the ups and downs of the economy — which we think, by the way, is everybody’s story.”
“If you want to really speak truth to power, you have to follow the money,” he said. “And we at Bloomberg are committed to doing that.”
These principles that led to Bloomberg’s success as a news organization could ultimately be the answer for some of the problems facing journalism today, Winkler said.
“I’ve always believed that the story always will be and always has been the most important part about what we do,” he said. “I do believe that great reporting has its own value, intrinsic value, that will be appreciated.”
When Winkler started his career, reporters worked with manual typewriters. With the tools, information and data available to journalists now, he said, there’s the possibility to report stories that would have once been unimaginable to him.
“People will figure out a way to pay for the story that informs us in a way that we wouldn’t have been otherwise enlightened,” Winkler said.
“Today, right now, is in some ways the most promising time to be a journalist,” he said.