GO
Loading...

Bloomberg hints at curb on articles about China

The chairman of Bloomberg said in a speech on Thursday that the company should have reconsidered articles that deviated from its core of coverage of business news, because they jeopardized the huge sales potential for its products in the Chinese market.

The comments by the chairman, Peter T. Grauer, represented the starkest acknowledgment yet by a senior Bloomberg executive that the ambitions of the news division should be assessed in the context of the business operation, which provides the bulk of the company's revenue. They also signaled which of those considerations might get priority.

(Read more: Fresh worries over China prompt slew of downgrades)

Acknowledging the vast size of the Chinese economy, the world's second-biggest after that of the United States, Mr. Grauer, said, "We have to be there."

"We have about 50 journalists in the market, primarily writing stories about the local business and economic environment," Mr. Grauer said in response to questions after a speech at the Asia Society. "You're all aware that every once in a while we wander a little bit away from that and write stories that we probably may have kind of rethought — should have rethought."

Photographer | CNBC

Bloomberg, the financial data and news company, relies on sales of its terminals, which are ubiquitous on bankers' desks around the world, for about 82 percent of its $8.5 billion in revenue. But sales of those terminals in China declined after the company published an article in June 2012 on the family wealth of Xi Jinping, at that time the incoming Communist Party chief. After its publication, officials ordered state enterprises not to subscribe to the service. Mr. Grauer did not specifically mention the article about Mr. Xi or any other articles.

Mr. Grauer's comments on Bloomberg's journalistic priorities in China reflect what some Bloomberg employees say is a re-emphasis on financial news, and skepticism from the business side about whether investigative journalism is worth the potential problems it could create for terminal sales.

A Bloomberg spokesman in New York said the company would have no comment on Mr. Grauer's remarks.

(Read more: China's debt problems are bad, but not Lehman bad)

A day earlier, Justin B. Smith, the chief executive of the Bloomberg Media Group, outlined an ambitious growth strategy for the news unit that would require expansion and increased investment. In a memorandum posted on the website Medium, he wrote: "Bloomberg Media is setting out to build a leading digitally led, multiplatform media company for global business. We want to become the indispensable source of information for the world's most influential people."

Bloomberg, controlled by the billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, who returned to the company at the beginning of this year after 12 years as mayor of New York City, employs about 125 people in mainland China across its businesses, which also include providing data about the country's currency and bond futures markets.

"Being in China is very much a part of our long-term strategy and will continue to be so going forward," Mr. Grauer said. "It occupies a lot of our thinking — Dan Doctoroff, our C.E.O.; me; Mike; and other members of our senior team."

After the article about the Xi family's wealth was published, Chinese officials also blocked Bloomberg's website on Chinese servers, and the company has been unable to get residency visas for new journalists. Other news organizations have come under similar pressure. The websites of The New York Times, including a new Chinese-language edition, were blocked when it published an article in October 2012 on the family wealth of Wen Jiabao, then the prime minister. Like Bloomberg, The Times has not received residency visas for new journalists.

In November, several news outlets, including The New York Times, published reports quoting unidentified Bloomberg employees saying that top editors at the company, led by Matthew Winkler, editor in chief of Bloomberg News, did not publish an investigative article because of fears the company would be expelled from China. Mr. Winkler denied that the article had been killed.

(Read more: China smog makes capital 'barely suitable' for life: report)

A reporter who was the co-writer of the unpublished investigative article — and who had been a lead reporter on the Xi family wealth article in 2012 — left Bloomberg News shortly after reports of the controversy were published in November. He joined The New York Times in January.

Some current and former Bloomberg journalists, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they had hoped the controversy surrounding Bloomberg's China reporting would prompt the company to reaffirm its support for investigative efforts. Mr. Grauer's comments were met with dismay, particularly because he is regarded as close to Mr. Bloomberg and would be unlikely to voice views that were not broadly accepted at the top of the company.

In his comments on Thursday, Mr. Grauer did not provide figures for the size of Bloomberg's business in China. One former executive said in November that the company had about 2,000 to 2,500 terminals in mainland China, out of 300,000 terminals worldwide.

More from the New York Times:

Discovering two screens aren't better than one
Ukrainian tumult highlights European Union's errors
PETA accuses two trainers of cruelty to horses

Mr. Grauer said the company was investing aggressively in fast-growing emerging markets, including China and dozens of other countries. Such nations account for about 12 percent of people who use Bloomberg terminals, but 30 percent of its sales in the year to date, he said.

"Our approach is pretty much to tune out all the news about weaknesses in the emerging markets," Mr. Grauer said. "We're investing full speed ahead."

In recent weeks, Mr. Bloomberg has taken up residence on the fifth floor of his company's New York headquarters, which primarily houses the television operation of Bloomberg News. The glass of a small conference room has been frosted since he arrived, and he uses it to take Spanish lessons, an employee said. His influence within the editorial unit has also increased since he left city hall, said people with knowledge of the operation, who insisted on anonymity in discussing internal operations.

Bloomberg has moved swiftly to put behind it a scandal in which its journalists were found to have used data from the terminals, like contact information, to help report stories. Reporters have been instructed in meetings, employees said, to avoid the use of proprietary information and to identify themselves clearly as from the news division. The aim, said one person present, has clearly been to assure terminal customers that their information is safe.

Contact Economy

  • CNBC NEWSLETTERS

    Get the best of CNBC in your inbox

    To learn more about how we use your information,
    please read our Privacy Policy.
    › Learn More