Former Bloomberg Editor Says China Reporting “Undermined By A Tiny Band Of Fools”

Ben Richardson LinkedIn
Ben Richardson, newly “freelance”

Bloomberg continues to lose longtime reporters because it values financial services over journalism. On Monday, Bloomberg News editor Ben Richardson, based in Hong Kong, resigned after 13 years with the company over the mishandling of an investigative piece — it was unceremoniously spiked — about a Chinese entrepreneur’s financial ties with Communist Party leaders and their families.

That story in question concerned Wang Jianlin, founder of the Dalian Wanda Group, and resulted in the firing of senior reporter Mike Forsythe. It also kickstarted a bit of a media donnybrook (the best kind) between Bloomberg and the New York Times. As the Times summarizes (from the position of “victor”) in a recent article:

Several Bloomberg employees have said that top editors in New York decided last October not to run the article in order to avoid raising the ire of senior party officials, who had been angered in 2012 by investigative reporting at Bloomberg, and running the risk of Bloomberg getting expelled from mainland China. Matthew Winkler, the editor in chief of Bloomberg News, denied the accusations of self-censorship and said that the article had not been spiked. One of the main reporters on the article, Michael Forsythe, was suspended by Bloomberg. Mr. Forsythe left the company and now works for The New York Times.

But it’s Richardson’s words we’d like to focus on, because they’re astringent and cutting, containing all the wonderful gruffness of a veteran newshound. Here he is writing to Jim Romenesko:

The sad thing about this is that a small group of incompetent and self-serving managers have screwed things up for everyone else. I spent 13 years at the company, as did Mike F. [Michael Forsythe]. I worked with some fantastic people who did and continue to do great work. That’s been undermined by a tiny band of fools.

Last Thursday, Bloomberg chairman Peter T. Grauer said in a Hong Kong speech (again, as reported by the New York Times), “You’re all aware that every once in a while we wander a little bit away from that [stories about the local business and economic environment] and write stories that we probably may have kind of rethought — should have rethought.” He was likely referring to a June 2012 story about Xi Jinping’s family wealth that resulted in major loss of revenue in the China market.

Richardson’s reaction to Grauer’s comments:

It’s interesting to see Grauer speak so plainly. He is a straight-talking man and I’ve always enjoyed his frank comments. I enjoyed them especially today in the sense that they illustrate the frame of mind of senior management from the business side — someone should ask Mike to go public on his views on the right to free speech as a universal value. //january town hall. hint hint///

As I’ve written in this space before, there’s nothing inherently wrong about being a financial company that prioritizes profit over journalism, but there will be consequences, one of which is the loss of journalistic talent. Maybe in the grand scheme of things it’s a small cost, one that, as a financial company, Bloomberg has no problem eating.

    2 Responses to “Former Bloomberg Editor Says China Reporting “Undermined By A Tiny Band Of Fools””

    1. Chinese Netizen

      Well Bloomberg’s situation is of survival and not killing their golden goose. Fair enough. However, when it comes to finances, insider trading, privileged information, “state secrets”, and the economic direction of the country, China AND it’s leaders are all intertwined. After all, they’re NOT a market economy no matter how much they whinge about being so.
      If Bloomberg just wants to run a stock ticker company with minimal in-depth news credibility, then fine…I hope their former go getter reporters get better gigs with organizations that appreciate reporting. Doubt if the SCMP will take any on in HK as that paper seems to be mostly staffed now with barely ESL level folks and are probably not willing to pay salaries in line with world class talent alongside their walking on eggshells as to not offend the goons in Zhongnanhai.


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