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Bloomberg, The Boy Wonder And The Name On The Building

Josh Tyrangiel, who resigned this week, and Michael Bloomberg attend <em>Bloomberg Businessweek's</em> 85th Anniversary Celebration in 2014.
Kevin Mazur
Getty Images
Josh Tyrangiel, who resigned this week, and Michael Bloomberg attend Bloomberg Businessweek's 85th Anniversary Celebration in 2014.

On Thursday, Josh Tyrangiel announced his resignation from Bloomberg News, where he was editor of the Bloomberg Businessweek magazine and oversaw strategic thinking for the rest of its news operations as chief content officer.

His departure shows the degree to which Bloomberg LP founder and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put his mark on the company since his surprise return as CEO late last year. Tyrangiel will be replaced by his deputy, Ellen Pollock, the first female editor since the publication's launch as The Business Week in 1929.

"It's time for the magazine to have success under a new leader, and it's time for me to have a fresh challenge," Tyrangiel says. Pollock told staffers Thursday that she intended to continue the magazine's new legacy of surprising and enterprising coverage.

It's hard to understate the degree to which Tyrangiel's nearly six-year tenure at the rechristened Bloomberg Businessweek stimulated change at the magazine and challenged the way in which the larger news organization had previously operated.

Bloomberg LP, the parent company, famously made billions for its founder, Michael Bloomberg, from the terminals he devised with proprietary financial data for subscribers willing to pay more than $20,000 a year to subscribe. It has more than 300,000 paid subscriptions.

The news service, known for scrupulous coverage of finance, business, economics and politics, was intended to supplement that information and has itself expanded over the years to encompass culture, sports and other subjects as well.

This following account is based in significant part on interviews with three senior figures at Bloomberg News who spoke on the condition of anonymity as the company has strict rules regulating public comment about it.

Tyrangiel's arrival from Time Inc. in 2009 to lead the newly acquired Businessweek represented an effort to think of ways to create as vital a presence for a public that could consume its news coverage outside the terminals.

It had been something of a chore to read; Businessweek is now considered a lively, provocative general interest magazine operating under the guise of a business publication. Bloomberg basked in the approval of both media figures and business leaders for the publication, though it largely has not proved profitable.

Two years ago, as the digital media executive Justin Smith was hired from Atlantic Media to become the CEO of Bloomberg's media properties, Tyrangiel was elevated to the chief content post. That allowed him to think more broadly about the organization's television channel, website and mobile efforts.

He moved swiftly to become an impact player. Tyrangiel persuaded Bloomberg, the company and the person, to give the political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann seven-figure annual pay to anchor a new television show on politics from New York. He hired Joshua Topolsky from the online site The Verge to run the digital shop and redesign the experience for readers. The British broadcast executive Claudia Milne was selected to run Bloomberg TV.

As Michael Bloomberg became more engaged in the running of the company, he started to chafe at those decisions, though he had assented to them along the way.

Topolsky left in less than a year. Milne has been shunted aside and replaced by the company's radio chief. And Halperin's and Heilemann's standing has appeared shaky. The show's ratings are an improvement on what came before but remain very small.

Mike Bloomberg issued a statement Friday in support of the two anchors: "I've become a devotee of Bloomberg Politics. It's an important part of our TV line-up and our strategy, giving our customers the news and people they need going into election season. I fully support it."

The company also issued a statement in support of Smith to quell speculation his departure might be imminent as well. "Justin Smith is very happy at Bloomberg and his strong results speak for themselves. He is making no plans to leave. Any suggestion to the contrary is false. He and Mike have a great working relationship," said Amanda Cowie, a company spokeswoman.

In recent years, Bloomberg LP has been caught up in conflicts on two fronts as it seeks to protect its lucrative terminal business.

First, former Bloomberg journalists charged that the company pulled its punches on investigations involving corruption by Chinese officials just as it was seeking to increase subscription sales in that country. Second, after allegations Bloomberg journalists used the terminals to snoop on subscribers' usage of the terminals and what data they used, the investment firm Goldman Sachs and other partners have sought to develop a cheaper competitor to the Bloomberg terminal.

On his return, Bloomberg decided he wanted to dedicate more attention to the core of the business — to protect the terminals and refocus how it defines news worth covering.

New Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait, fresh from The Economist, told journalists that they were not to focus on "gotcha" stories but on the company's franchise of economics, finance, business and power.

Many journalists involved in covering other areas, including Washington, were let go.

Tyrangiel had always been treated as a golden boy, as he told associates, respected and consulted by Bloomberg. But now he found his decisions reversed by the man whose name appears on the building.

Signs of Tyrangiel's influence remain at Bloomberg's website, refashioned Washington bureau, new television shows and of course, Businessweek .

But for the change agent at Bloomberg News, it's time for a change.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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