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Bloomberg and Reuters: The Future of News

They're rich, they're global, and they're snapping up A-list journalists—and maybe newspapers, even 'The New York Times'

Still, there’s no debate that both companies got where they are by serving their financial subscribers’ interests, with terminals that blink with mind-boggling amounts of up-to-the-minute, specialized market data. That’s how Bloomberg can command from its subscribers $20,000 a year for access to one of its terminals. (“Terminal” is actually a misnomer; it is a Web-based service, as Bloomberg no longer sells the machines). No surprise, then, that most of Bloomberg’s resources go toward news that can make its customers money, which is why it has armies of reporters covering global companies, commodities and acquisitions.

Unimaginable at traditional news organizations, where editorial is theoretically insulated from the money side, the terminal permeates every aspect of the Bloomberg culture—from the oversized video screens that display the total number of terminals sold to date and the year-end bonuses based on terminal sales to the very way in which news is disseminated. All news goes out through the terminal first (ahead of the free website), while fully half of all content it distributes is exclusive to subscribers.

Reuters also has the subscriber at the heart of its business. Its news content feeds into its financial and other subscription products, which are sold to traders, law firms and other professionals for anywhere from $12,000 to $20,400 per year. All of its editorial content is distributed to clients first. As for the traditional separation between journalists and the sales side, at Reuters newspeople are required to pay a given number of visits to clients every year, says Douglas Taylor, a former Reuters executive who now tracks financial information services as a managing partner at Burton-Taylor International Consulting. “The point was so they could see, touch, smell the people reading their stories,” explains Taylor.

As lucrative as their market data services are, the companies would like to lessen their dependence on these products. Together, Bloomberg and Reuters control two-thirds of the financial data market, but they took a hit with the economic collapse. As a hedge against instability in the markets, Bloomberg, as noted, has expanded into government and legal data businesses. Its $990 million purchase last summer of BNA, a provider of legal and tax news and data, got scant notice but was a significant step toward that diversification.

At the same time, the companies are attempting to expand their influence beyond their professional constituencies by growing their footprint among news consumers at large—all in the service of selling more subscriptions. To that end, Bloomberg bought and breathed new life into the gasping BusinessWeek from McGraw-Hill in late 2009 and moved into the world of opinion with Bloomberg View, along the way hiring A-list journalists including David Shipley from The New York Times and Josh Tyrangiel from Time. As Winkler says, “We’re scrambling to apply our model as fast as we can.” There’s even been talk that Bloomberg wants to acquire the Times.

Reuters is in a somewhat different situation. A household name in the U.K., where it started, it’s less known in the U.S. Reuters’ financial and news service was bought by professional information provider Thomson Corp. in 2008, and the merged company has since lured top journalists like Slate media critic Jack Shafer. (Adler himself is a Wall Street Journal veteran, as well as an editor of BusinessWeek pre-Bloomberg). And in a sign Reuters is serious about spreading its influence among a broader audience, last year it made Anthony De Rosa, a ceaseless blogger whom The New York Times dubbed the “King of Tumblr,” its social media editor. In addition, Reuters bought BreakingViews, a financial commentary service, and has been moving in on the Associated Press with its own wire service, Reuters America. “It’s a very sweet coming together of a news organization and a branding exercise where we’re helping people be aware of us 24/7,” Adler says.

Reuters doesn’t have a magazine or newspaper, at least not yet. It created a glossy magazine for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and execs haven’t ruled out expanding it. Also, as Bloomberg is said to want to get its hands on The New York Times, it’s been rumored that Reuters has its eye on another blue-chip print property, The Financial Times.

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