Bloomberg Plans a Data Service on the Business of Government

Updated:2010/10/11 15:03

Ambition and confidence have never been in short supply at Bloomberg L.P.

Chapter 4 of Michael R. Bloomberg’s autobiography, the part in which he describes conceiving the idea for Bloomberg News in the late 1980s, is titled “We Can Do That: Elementary Journalism, Not Rocket Science.”

Now Bloomberg is taking that entrepreneurial ethos and making an aggressive push into the Washington media terrain long dominated by trade publications and news outlets like Congressional Quarterly and National Journal, which charge high subscription fees to provide lobbyists and Capitol Hill insiders with information on the nuts-and-bolts of lawmaking and government regulation.

In the same way that Bloomberg terminals have become a ubiquitous presence on the desks of Wall Street traders, Bloomberg executives aim to make their new service an indispensable tool for lobbyists, Capitol Hill staff members and government contractors.

The service, called Bloomberg Government, is based on the same guiding principle that spawned the original Bloomberg financial data machine: people need an aggregator and filter for information, and they will pay a lot of money for that convenience.

Bloomberg Government is an information behemoth — a news aggregator, government contract database, Congressional staff directory and source for policy research and analysis all in one Web site.

Unlike the Bloomberg financial information service, Bloomberg Government will not require separate hardware to operate. For $5,700 a year for each user (a discount will be available for government users), subscribers will be able to gain access to the system through their personal computers.

The idea for the service was born in part from what Bloomberg executives saw as an opening in the Washington media market. As numerous Web sites, blogs and even traditional policy-focused outlets like National Journal have ramped up their coverage of political news, reporting on the less glamorous aspects — how the legislative sausage is made — has become less of a priority for many news organizations.

“There has been a bloom in news around political reporting,” said Kevin Sheekey, chairman of Bloomberg Government. “There’s been at the same time a sort of hidden but very sharp decline in coverage of government apart from politics, in terms of what government is doing and regulating, and the impact that will have on segments of the economy. That part of press coverage of our society has probably dropped off tenfold. That’s where Bloomberg is stepping in.”

Many news organizations are coy about their ambitions, preferring to let their journalism speak for itself and content to let others speculate about what designs they have on the future. Not Bloomberg. And Bloomberg Government is an unmistakable signal that the company is positioning itself to be not only a major media player in Washington, but the dominant one.

“Our aspiration is to be the most influential news organization in the world,” said Mike Riley, the managing editor of Bloomberg Government in Washington. “I think Bloomberg sees a great opportunity here, and they are wisely investing on the front end,” he added, declining to say exactly how much the company has spent building the service over the last nine months. “Suffice it to say, it’s not inexpensive.”

Bloomberg’s existing Washington bureau employs 175 journalists apart from the nearly 40 journalists and analysts Mr. Riley has hired so far for Bloomberg Government. He plans to hire 60 more by the end of the year, half of them journalists, half policy experts like trained economists.

By the end of 2011, Bloomberg Government expects to have 150 journalists and analysts on staff. Counting nonjournalists, plans call for Bloomberg Government to expand to 300, which would make the company’s Washington office the largest for a news organization not based in the capital.

Bloomberg’s investment in the staff alone will be in the area of $30 million a year.

If Bloomberg Government is a success, the company would like to replicate the model on the state level, providing the same kind of information and analysis about state contracts and legislation — a vast potential market that many local news organizations have retreated from in recent years.

Bloomberg has experienced near-uninterrupted growth since its namesake founded the company after being fired from Salomon Brothers in 1981. Its revenue — 85 percent of which comes from sales of its signature financial news and data terminals — was $6.3 billion last year. This year the company expects to hit the $7 billion mark, well on its way to hitting a goal of $10 billion in revenue by 2014, a feat that would make it larger than Yahoo. It now employs 2,400 people in its various news divisions across the world.

Bloomberg has moved into other areas of media — some profitable, some not. Its television network and the newly acquired BusinessWeek, which it bought from McGraw-Hill last year and merged with its own magazine, lose money. Terminal sales dipped slightly in 2009 to 279,000 from 287,000 the year before as financial services companies tightened their belts. The average Bloomberg terminal subscriber pays $20,000 a year, the company said.

An enterprise like Bloomberg Government, with its hefty subscription fees, can help the company grow and keep it better insulated against downturns in the financial market, to which its terminal business is susceptible. In explaining why they decided to start Bloomberg Government, executives are quick to point out that even during the recession, the federal budget and spending by businesses to lobby in Washington rose continuously.

Bloomberg Government’s creators have tried to make the service a one-stop-shopping experience for any piece of data that exists about the federal government and the corporations that work on its behalf.

Separate pages have been created for all members of Congress. With the click of a mouse, users can learn just about any piece of information about their representative or senator: top political contributors and amounts donated, legislation sponsored, even spouses’ names. E-mail addresses for the staffs of each Congressional office — from chief of staff to scheduler — are also available and updated regularly by Bloomberg contractors who call Congressional offices every few weeks to double-check the information.

Maps of all Congressional districts are also available, marked with each hospital and corporate headquarters in the area. Bloomberg eventually plans to list the lobbyists who represent those institutions and how to reach them.

Information in similarly fine detail is available about corporations: how much money they have donated to political candidates, what government contracts they have been awarded, who the leading corporate officers are and how to contact them.

This mine of data will be available alongside the work that Bloomberg writers will produce. Their newsroom, which will be in a space on K Street where Google’s offices formerly were, will operate as a hybrid research firm-wire service, with Ph.D.-level analysts being paired with journalists to produce reports.

Jenn Higgins, a principal at the Capitol Health Group, a boutique health care lobbying firm in Washington, has been a tester for the service since July. She said she has already canceled subscriptions to other Washington publications.

If Bloomberg Government catches on, she said, half in jest, it could make her job as a lobbyist obsolete. “If I live outside Washington, this is a pretty big universe of information I pay a lobbyist to know,” she said. “I guess I think at the end of the day a computer can’t take someone to Capitol Hill to meet a member of Congress. Until that happens, I think I’ll be O.K.”

By:JEREMY W. PETERS  Source:nytimes
For press release services, please email us at english@c114.net.cn.

Related News


    Copyright© 2014 C114 All rights reserved.