The rise and fall of Josh Tyrangiel at former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s eponymous media company—today is Tyrangiel’s last day as the editor of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine as well as Bloomberg Media’s chief content officer—signals the 73-year-old multibillionaire’s reassertion of total control over his privately held empire.
The abrupt departure of the 43-year-old Tyrangiel—a divisive figure who was both admired and despised during his six years there—comes barely a month after the layoffs of nearly 100 Bloomberg Media employees, not to mention the dismissal, demotion, or resignation of half a dozen key news executives, including founding editor in chief Matt Winkler, whom the ex-mayor replaced in December with British journo John Micklethwait, the longtime editor of The Economist.
The drip-by-drip bloodbath over the past year, according to Bloomberg Media insiders, also heralds the potential demise of the company’s richly financed ambitions to be a global journalism powerhouse.
“Mike doesn’t even really like journalists,” a Bloomberg insider told The Daily Beast—perhaps recalling the ex-mayor’s notoriously testy interactions with beat reporters during his grudging and frequently condescending press conferences at City Hall.
Indeed, reports of an offhand remark that, according to sources, Hizzoner made last April, during an office party at Bloomberg Media’s Manhattan headquarters celebrating the 2015 Explanatory Reporting Pulitzer for Zachary Midler’s investigative series on corporate schemes to relocate outside the United States to avoid paying taxes, did nothing to improve the mood in an increasingly demoralized newsroom.
“This is great for the people who care about journalism awards,” Bloomberg allegedly quipped, implying that he isn’t one of them. Indeed, neither Bloomberg, Winkler, nor Micklethwait attended the Pulitzer Prize awards luncheon in May at Columbia University.
Sixteen years ago, when Mike Bloomberg handed off the reins of his company to campaign for the first of his three terms as mayor, Bloomberg LP—which accounts for the lion’s share of his estimated $38 billion fortune, making him New York’s wealthiest human—was a very different place from today’s media behemoth with bureaus all over the world employing 2,300 editors and reporters.
With an astonishingly lucrative business model that its namesake invented in 1981, Bloomberg LP was originally focused on providing microscopically detailed proprietary financial information, analytics and trading software to corporate and individual customers, including most of the top players on Wall Street, who paid hefty premiums to lease the company’s patented computer terminals.
Last September, when Mike Bloomberg, less than a year out of office and restless at the helm of his charitable foundation, announced his return as chief executive of his company—displacing CEO Dan Doctoroff, his former deputy mayor—he was in for a bit of a shock.
The hot-tempered, bow-tied Winkler, who had grown close to Bloomberg and ghost-wrote his autobiography as a Wall Street Journal reporter, was Bloomberg’s hand-picked editor in chief a quarter-century ago; a serious and aggressive journalist, Winkler had set about orchestrating Bloomberg Media’s expansion beyond what “either of us thought possible,” as Bloomberg stated in the press release announcing Winkler’s demotion last December to “editor in chief emeritus.”
It was not necessarily a compliment.
“Mike came back and he looked at the place and didn’t recognize it,” said the Bloomberg insider. “He said, ‘What happened to the little business news service that I used to run that just catered to our customers?’
“Because now you had all these highly paid people from the Wall Street Journal and other places [notably the hiring of high-priced pundits John Heilemann and Mark Halperin to run Bloomberg Politics] doing all these big stories, and some of them didn’t have anything to do with business.”
Channeling Bloomberg’s supposed inner thoughts, the insider went on: “‘Some of these stories are investigative and pissing off my friends. They’re pissing off my customers, and people in the government. I want to dismantle all of this and I want go back to what I’m familiar with.’”
A close Bloomberg pal put it a different way: “Mike is holding people’s feet to the fire, and he has always thought the news division needs to serve what the terminal customer wants and needs. I’m sure that has a lot of people nervous and jealous of others. You have to remember that most people in news were hired over the 12 years Mike wasn’t there, and they don’t like it at all that he’s come in and tried to change some things, forgetting that he owns the place and his name is on their checks.”
Of course, Bloomberg the man is possessed of an unreadable poker face; despite a flaunting display of openness, eschewing a private office for a modest desk in the newsroom, it’s virtually impossible to guess what he’s thinking.
Back in January, when top news exec Laurie Hays was summoned by the big boss to an early-morning meeting, according to a colleague, she thought she might be getting a promotion; instead Hizzoner curtly informed Hays—whose name had been floated, along with Tyrangiel’s, for the editor-in-chief’s job that Micklethwait ultimately received—that her services were no longer needed.
“He told her he was going in a different direction,” said a former Bloomberg editor who is familiar with the conversation. Hays, who declined to comment for this story, today is partner in a corporate communications shop.
In Bloomberg Media Kremlinology, Hays and Tyrangiel were sworn adversaries and rivals—the expression of a titanic culture clash between those who valued detailed, down-in-the weeds investigative reporting and meat-and-potatoes business news coverage (the Hays camp) and those, like Tyrangiel, who cherished graceful writing, gripping storytelling, flashy graphics and buzz.
The business journalists, whose fact-dense, detail-heavy but often tedious work serviced the all-important Bloomberg terminals, had good reason to suspect that Tyrangiel viewed them with disdain.
He made no secret of his preference for enjoyable reads over meticulous reporting, or his dislike of what he called “victim stories” or dreary investigations of government malfeasance in federal and state agency backwaters.
“I like forests, and I sometimes even like trees,” Tyrangiel has been known to declare in private, expressing his tastes in journalism. “I don’t like bark.”
Tyrangiel was recruited in 2009 from Time magazine, where he spent a decade as a rising star, to remake the freshly acquired Bloomberg Businessweek by former Time Inc. and then-Bloomberg exec Norman Pearlstine.
Tyrangiel is widely credited, even by his detractors, with transforming the dull weekly into an entertaining, well-written, graphically appealing journal.
Tyrangiel’s deputy, Ellen Pollock, a rare survivor from the pre-2009 days when Businessweek was a McGraw-Hill property, has been named Tyrangiel’s successor.
Pearlstine had preceded Doctoroff out the door, returning to Time Inc.—departures which, according to one informed theory, made Tyrangiel’s own exit all but inevitable.
“Josh was Norman and Doctoroff’s darling,” said a well-placed Bloomberg veteran, “and once they left he was pretty much left without a rabbi.”
Unlike Hays, Tyrangiel—who was an alien presence when he arrived at the company as the designated golden boy to shake things up, and inspired Old Guard resentment as he achieved ever-increasing influence over Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Markets magazine, Bloomberg Digital, Bloomberg Radio and Bloomberg Projects and investigations, as well as the Washington bureau—nurtured a friendly if occasionally fractious relationship with the owner.
Mike Bloomberg liked Tyrangiel’s “suave swagger,” according to one observer, and they seemed to share “the soul of an old Jewish comedian,” according to another.
Despite occasional disagreements—especially over the relaunch this past January of the Bloomberg website, which the owner considered too flip and unserious, ultimately killing the redesign and firing Tyrangiel’s choice to run it—Hizzoner treated the younger man as a sort of surrogate son.
Many suspected that Tyrangiel “was constantly pouring poison into Mike’s ear about Laurie,” although Tyrangiel—who also didn’t comment for this story—is said to profess a self-effacing apathy when it comes to brass-knuckled corporate maneuvering.
Tyrangiel attracted a far more powerful adversary in Winkler, a hands-on manager who treasured old-school journalistic values and enjoyed a genuinely close relationship with the boss.
With Pearlstine’s backing, Tyrangiel had won a battle—at least temporarily—to keep Bloomberg Businessweek out of Winkler’s sphere of influence, essentially creating a parallel news operation over which the latter could exert no control.
That arrangement ended abruptly in February 2012, when Tyrangiel—for a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story on the merger between Continental and United airlines—published a cheesy cover image of two jetliners apparently in the throes of a sex act, with the cover line, “Let’s Get It On.”
Winkler and then-Bloomberg chief executive Peter Grauer went ballistic over the scandalous breach of taste that even Gawker called “juvenile” and “more crude than clever.”
Winkler used the embarrassing incident to demand and gain cover approval of the magazine.
In recent months, as his power and influence waned in the bright sun of Mike Bloomberg’s authority, Tyrangiel began thinking of the next step in his career.
He had a long chat with the owner a couple of weeks ago and again on Monday as he settled on his future—a new job elsewhere that he is close to nailing down.
Tyrangiel is, according to The New York Times, considering a move to Vice, where he may oversee a daily news show for HBO.
“So maybe, even after having won the Hunger Games,” emailed a Bloomberg Kremlinologist, assessing Tyrangiel’s legacy, “he found out that working for the Irascible Billionaire wasn’t so great after all, especially when ‘results’ were demanded, but the ‘results’ goal posts keep moving.”
This insider added: “I give him some cred for the glib, breezy side of Businessweek, which truly was moribund and unreadable before. But even there, in my humble opinion, he ALWAYS opted for style over substance.”
To which a well-placed insider responded: “That’s some very old-school Bloombergian Kremlinology. But there’s no fucking Kremlin here! There’s just Mike.”