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Bloomberg News co-founder discusses the changing climate of journalism

Bloomberg News co-founder Matthew Winkler visited Medill on Thursday, Nov. 21, to share stories from the company’s founding, talk about the impact of social media on the news business and sign copies of his book, “The Bloomberg Way.”

Winkler, who is currently editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, founded the global news service with Michael Bloomberg in 1990. He shared tales from Bloomberg’s beginnings to highlight what he says is at the core of the journalism field: the facts.

With a reliance on the Internet as a source of information and the rise of social media, Winkler said many news organizations are losing their focus on reporting truth and instead just want to get the story out first.

“News can travel anywhere in an instant,” Winkler said. “This is something that’s a recurring threat to the integrity of the reporting process.”

Traditionally, news organizations have only had to compete with each other. But the Digital Age has turned that idea on its head.

“You’re not just competing with newspapers,” Winkler said. “You’re competing with everybody, and it makes it hard for news organizations to stay competitive.”

The key to Bloomberg News’s continued success in the current media climate is because the company delivers data that is useful and trustworthy, Winkler said. The company “delivers news that’s indispensable. Not only does it have to be true, it has to be actionable,” he added.

The idea for the Bloomberg company began when Michael Bloomberg worked for Salomon Brothers and noticed piles of Wall Street Journals everywhere on the trading floor. He saw this as a wasteful and inefficient way to share data and sought out an electronic method of delivering the same information.

Bloomberg left Salomon Brothers and began his namesake company, which Winkler, who was a reporter covering markets at the Wall Street Journal at the time, saw as both revolutionary and a threat to the traditional news business.

Eventually, Bloomberg wanted to expand on his digital data idea and create a news division of the company. He phoned Winkler, who had written about the Bloomberg company, to gauge his opinion.

“He did things no other big media company had thought to do with data,” Winkler said. “I told him ‘if you marry what you do with news, you’ll have something that doesn’t already exist.’ His idea was digital before people were using that word.”

Today, Bloomberg is one of the largest news organizations in the world. One of the biggest reasons for this is that Bloomberg has always stuck to its founding principles.

“We found that if we are lucky at all, it comes from this idea at the inception that you’re only as good as your data,” Winkler said.

Medill professors, journalism students and visitors from Kellogg School of Management attended the talk. Some of Winkler’s words were especially prescient for students studying to incorporate digital delivery with news.

Chris Williams (MSJ14), who works on digital journalism projects with the Northwestern University Knight Lab and was a freelance web developer before enrolling at Medill, plans to focus on political journalism after graduation. He particularly liked Winkler’s reiteration of the company’s core principles and how Bloomberg uses data to craft narratives.

“I want to turn data and information into stories,” Williams said. “That’s what Bloomberg does every day.”