Bloomberg – Blown Out of Proportion?

Posted by on May 16th, 2013

This week has been a truly amazing week in the world of media! Barbara Walters announced her retirement, Angelina Jolie choose to break the news that she had a preventive double mastectomy through a powerful op-ed in the New York Times, the Justice Department subpoenaed and seized phone records from the Associated Press without warning and Bloomberg has been scrutinized for allowing its reporters access to select information about its terminal customers.

While the AP story is quite frightening – I could probably write a novel on my thoughts there – what really has gotten under my skin is the vast amount scrutiny that Bloomberg has received.  Here are the facts as I understand them – reporters were able to access inconsequential user information – such as when a company became a terminal subscriber, what features they use and the time they spent on the terminal.  Unless there is something we are not being told, I am not sure how any of this data to be truly helpful to a reporter. I think it’s safe to say that most financial intuitions are subscribers and are active on their terminals. These terminals are normal course of business for them.

To be clear, this data should not have been accessible and media organizations, or technology organizations with media arm, must ensure that there is a ‘Chinese Wall’ between sales and editorial and that access to this type of information is prohibited. If it comes out later that more than just very basic subscriber data was available then that is a whole other can of worms. But, with the facts available now, I am not sure why this has become such a big story. At this point, Bloomberg needs to work on re-establishing trust with its customers.

The world of business and media becomes more blurred every day. Major venture capitalists, executives and even regular employees often moonlight as journalists – whether on their personal blogs, company blogs, social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) or even have partnerships with major media outlets (a la Forbes, Fortune, etc.).  Whenever someone writes, tweets or posts on Facebook, there is a certain amount of responsibility to make sure their facts are straight and obtained in a fair manner.

I don’t think this the last time we will see a media company attempt to utilize information gained at an unfair advantage (that said – aren’t all reporters just looking for a good scoop?)  but as we counsel our clients to serve as thought leaders and share their views and opinions with the public, the Bloomberg ‘scandal’ can serve as a valuable lesson.