WASHINGTON – The press corps, your press corps, took a big hit last Thursday. With little or no warning, Bloomberg News announced it was canceling a political television show by a leading journalist and laying off an undetermined number of personnel in its television and print offices here.
This is not an example of economic pressures like loss of circulation revenues or advertising. Bloomberg doesn’t make money that way.
This is more an example of bad citizenship, or irresponsibility. What Bloomberg is casting to the winds are news reports about congressional misbehavior that will not be replicated in any form.
Effectively shuttering much of its Washington bureau that operates in such favorable financial circumstances casts a reflection on other news organizations that have cut back on much or all of their coverage.
The Buffalo News, mind you, continues its detailed Washington coverage through its resident bureau chief, Jerry Zremski. Maintaining local coverage is a tradition that dates back prior to 1922.
Bloomberg makes its money by selling subscriptions for its monitors that track market and other trends. For the most part, is it immune from the revenue losses that have put a strain on print operations across America.
Bloomberg’s revenues exceed $8.2 billion a year, and they are skyrocketing. Fortune Magazine said that when founder Michael Bloomberg ended his 12 years as mayor of New York City and returned to his data and media company, it had overtaken its archrival, Thomson Reuters, as the industry’s leader across the world.
One of the reporters Bloomberg laid off specialized in campaign finance. I don’t have permission to write about his personal challenges so I won’t name him. But he did investigations into who paid for political campaigns for the House and Senate, and picked apart reports filed by lobbyists, who form the elusive fourth branch of government, and the personal financial reports filed by individual members.
He has lavish experience as a reporter for newspapers in New York State, and is a respected professional leader.
In its announcement, Bloomberg claimed it is not downgrading its Washington coverage but that its Washington coverage will now generally be based in Manhattan. Featured in its public relations messages is that broadcasts by two highly paid, high-powered reporters out of New York City will more than replace the work done here by the unhorsed columnist/broadcaster. This is baloney.
Of the furloughed reporter, there was no mention anywhere. The work that he did, like the detailed summaries by so many other reporters who are now gone, will not – will not – be produced by anyone else. These reports were not read by everyone, but they did get read by people who counted. And they formed the fabric that influenced decisions in Washington. Now they are history.
It is true that these public service reports are now, to some degree, put out by foundations such as the Sunlight Foundation. But you need reporters’ boots on the ground to analyze and produce accounts of meaning and importance to local readers. Bloomberg once did this as a draw for its subscribers. Its editors at one time endorsed this work as an investment in good government.
This is a very dangerous time for representative democracy. Big money, as a result of the 2010 Citizens United decision that loosed cascades of secret cash on political campaigns, is in total command of both parties and there are ever-fewer journalists here to keep track of what is happening. And fewer journalists who can take the time to even understand campaign finance.
The foxes are in almost complete control of the political henhouse.