Tonight the American Society of Magazine Editors will crown this year’s glossy kings and queens. Perennial favorites like New York and the New Yorker may be gearing up for a haul, but Bloomberg Markets editor Ron Henkoff is keeping is expectations tempered.
“I’ve been down this road before,” he told The Observer last week at Bloomberg’s futurist HQ. In 2008, Markets was a finalist for a Public Interest Ellie in but didn’t win. This year, however, the stakes are a little bit higher.
“Now we’re a finalist in the General Excellence category, which is like the Best Picture award,” Mr. Henkoff said.
Mr. Henkoff sat in front of a wall lined with galleys for the magazine’s next issue–a standard fixture at any print publication, but an anomaly in Bloomberg’s transparent, fishbowl layout. He had to fight for it, he said. It reflects an old journalism mentality, which has been Mr. Henkoff’s mandate within the technology-heavy media corporation for the past thirteen years. With experience in business reporting and editing at Fortune and Newsweek (including The Informant!-inspiring story of ADM price-fixing whistleblower Mark Whitacre), Mr. Henkoff was first brought on by Bloomberg News chief Matt Winkler to boost the institution’s feature writing, which had not been a priority in the fast-moving newsroom. When Mr. Henkoff arrived, a reporter joked: “I know the difference between news and features: A news story has one source and a feature has two.”
As Mr. Henkoff brought in solid long-form business stories, Mr. Winkler decided to showcase them in what was then called Bloomberg Magazine–a dry how-to manual for the Bloomberg terminal beefed up with reprinted Bloomberg News stories. They changed the title and relegated the service content to a back section called “Strategies.”
The vast majority of Bloomberg Markets subscribers have opted in for the subscription with the purchase of a terminal (although non-terminal subscribers and newsstand sales are growing, Mr. Henkoff says). As far as advertisers are concerned, this means Markets readers largely work in finance and as such are astronomically rich, influential and desirable, but potentially less engaged than the reader who sought out the subscription. It also means Mr. Henkoff must consider certain Bloomberg terminal customers—like banks and financial firms—as both his readers and the subjects of his investigations.
“They’re big, they’re hugely influential, they’ve led us through this global financial crisis, and they need to be held to accountable,” he said. “It’s the deal Matt Winkler struck with [Mayor] Bloomberg: ‘I have to be able to write what’s true, accurate and fair about your biggest customers’.”
Goldman Sachs certainly counts among them. The company’s flagging performance was given a critical treatment in March’s issue, and Markets didn’t pull any punches. That said, the magazine won’t use unnamed sources, and you won‘t find coinages like Matt Taibbi’s now ubiquitous “vampire squid” line anywhere within it.
“It’s a good phrase, but it’s not our style,” he said.
Despite regularly publishing award-winning and groundbreaking stories–like a series of sub-prime mortgage and CDO explainers, in which the the phrase “toxic debts” made its first-ever appearance back in July 2007, months before the bottom fell out at Bear Stearns–Markets remains the sober step-sister of the publishing division, while younger sibling, Businessweek, soaks up the attention.
“People don’t always notice where a story came from,” Mr. Henkoff said.
The prize committees are starting to notice, however. A Markets expose on life insurance fraud by David Evans, which launched a major investigation by then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo last year, was a finalist for a Pulitzer this year.
If there’s any sibling rivalry between the two publications, Mr. Henkoff certainly doesn’t acknowledge it.
“Acquiring Businessweek and the money and resources that have been put in—to Bloomberg TV, the website, and Markets—increases awareness of Bloomberg as a company that does good and serious journalism,” Mr. Henkoff said.
And Markets is working on becoming more noticeable.
The magazine recently hired a new publisher, added sales and marketing staff, funded a redesign and hired its first-ever creative director Siung Tjia, formerly of ESPN The Magazine, to revamp its info graphics and photography. It also took the unusual step of hiring an outside PR firm, Four Corners, better known for representing pop culture publications, such as Maxim and Radar.
For all that, Mr. Henkoff’s keeping his expectations in check.
“We’re never going to be a mass-market newsstand magazine,” he said. “It’s part of this sense that we cover the world of finance, but we cover it in a way that’s accessible to anyone whose interested. You shouldn’t have to have a Ph.D. in finance.”
Or a terminal, they hope.