The most interesting parlor game in New York City right now is
guessing what Mayor Michael Bloomberg will do after his term ends on Dec. 31
and he leaves city hall after 12 lively years as Hizzoner.
Will Mike Bloomberg return to run Bloomberg L.P., the media
and information company that he founded in the early 1980s and nurtured into a
journalism juggernaut? (Nah – been there, done that). Will he continue to give
much of his estimated twenty-seven-billion-dollar fortune away to worthy
charitable causes (Natch). Will he remain active in public life and keep
pressing social causes that he fervently believes in? (Bet on it).
Will Bloomberg -- as many people (including this reporter) think he will -- try to buy the New York Times Co.?
Lots of people believe that it would be good for the Times newspaper and
its parent, New York City, the media industry – and the man himself.
Let’s take the last point first. Why would it be good for
Mayor Mike? To be blunt, he will need a job – or, more to the point, a
challenge worthy of his mammoth intellect, ambition and ego. The challenge of
turning around the Times – while his fingerprints on it – would satisfy his
restlessness. Come on. Can’t you just see Bloomberg, a la Citizen Kane, puckishly tell an
interviewer, “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper.”
You see, I have a theory about Bloomberg. He is an adrenaline junkie, meaning he is a poster child for Type A personalities and he needs to be engaged in serious work. He’s also a celebrity magnet, who invariably surrounds himself with important (and self-important) people from the worlds of business and politics.
I know a little but about Bloomberg. I worked happily for his company as a journalist from 1993 to 1999, back when he rolled up his sleeves and joined his menagerie of scribes, salespeople and computer geeks on a common floor.
It was a heady time, filled with grand chances taken (a radio station,
WBBR, which gave rise to a television channel), lots of hard work and more fun
than I’ve ever had in any job. Everyone drank Mike’s Kool-Aid and followed his
lead. Outsiders carped that Bloomberg was a “sweatshop” but they missed the
point. The mantra actually was “work hard, play hard,” and everyone did, to the
I got to observe Bloomberg in many kinds of situations and
came away – I resigned from his company to join a fledgling web site as a media
correspondent – thinking he was the most audacious and brilliant person I had
ever worked for. And I still feel that way.
Bloomberg would be a boon to the Times because he would probably make progress in solving the thorny business problems that the company has had for several years, namely its inability to monetize the single most prestigious brand in all of the media.
You say, no way – it can’t be done. As Ken Auletta recently wrote in
the New Yorker: Bloomberg “makes plain his contempt for the New York Times, the
media property friends say he covets but most likely cannot own…”
Hmmm. Well, just ask the mayoral candidates he trumped in
his first election in 2001 how Bloomberg handles long odds of success or put
the point to the media magnates that he sprinted past, like cones on a highway,
as his company exploded in size and influence.
These are extraordinary times in the newspaper industry,
what with John Henry gobbling up the Boston Globe and Jeff Bezos devouring the
Washington Post. The trend of zillionaires taking over newspapers is in full
flower. It makes sense that it will continue – and it makes sense to me that
Mike Bloomberg would leap aboard the moving train and acquire the New York
Of all the times I watched Bloomberg at work in the 1990s,
one episode strikes me today as being poignant and instructive in understanding
his extraordinary legacy. One of my tasks in those days was to interview
visiting celebrities for what we called the Bloomberg Forum, a video series
that represented dandy content for the sprawling Bloomberg Terminal, Mike’s
One afternoon, Alan Simpson, who was retiring from the U.S.
Senate to teach at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, came to the office, and I dutifully talked with him before the cameras.
Anyway, Sen. Simpson was explaining his sense of excitement
and trepidation at taking on a new challenge. Bloomberg explained to Simpson,
as I again stood and listened, that he himself believed in re-inventing himself
every 15 years or so. At that point, Mike had been running the Bloomberg Company
for roughly 16 years. After about a decade and a half as a trader at Salomon
Brothers and then as a media mogul, it was clear he was itching to re-invent
himself. Not long after, he hurtled himself into city politics.
Now, he must again re-invent himself. Who knows? Perhaps he’ll
find a position that enables him to use the lessons he learned he learned about
money and power on Wall Street, at Bloomberg L.P. and in Gracie Mansion. Maybe,
just maybe, that calling is running the New York Times.