By Christopher B. Daly
What would you do if you were worth a couple of billion dollars and were the mayor of New York City and (probably) banned from seeking a fourth term? If you are Michael Bloomberg, your thoughts might stray toward buying a newspaper. Not a copy of a newspaper, of course, but a whole newspaper company.
That’s the upshot of a story in today’s Times, which says that Bloomberg is reportedly considering buying Financial Times Ltd., which owns all of the Financial Times newspaper and a half interest in The Economist magazine. (FT Ltd is a division of the British media giant Pearson.)
You might ask: why?
Michael Bloomberg has made a fortune multiple times over from the “media” company that he already owns — Bloomberg L.P. The company is based on the phenomenally lucrative business of supplying patented terminals to stock traders, along with content from Bloomberg’s own company and other sources. In that business, Bloomberg made billions. But it’s not enough.
What follows is pure speculation (since I have never met him or interviewed him). I don’t believe Michael Bloomberg wants any more wealth. Besides, getting into the printing of newspapers or magazines is hardly the road to riches. I suspect that what drives Bloomberg is the electricity that comes from power — the kind of power he now wields as mayor of the country’s biggest city but which will be passing from his hands.
Like many another media mogul before him (Greeley, Hearst), Bloomberg has toyed with the idea of offering the whole country his services, as president of the United States. There are many reasons to believe that will not happen, so what else is there? He probably does not want to go back to minding the store at a company that sells trading terminals to Wall Street types.
No, the only kind of activity that offers the promise of that much power (or at least influence) is owning an important publication. Since the time of the first truly mass-circulation daily newspapers in the 1830s, that has been the pattern throughout U.S. history (see my book Covering America on Bennett, Greeley, Pulitzer, Hearst, Luce, Murdoch, etc.) . Time and again, as publishers have connected with masses of people, they have convinced themselves that they are indispensable to the fate of the nation and start throwing their weight around.
Michael Bloomberg already has a record of accomplishment. He has come a long way from his origins in Medford, Mass. If he really wants to help our country, and if he really wants to boost the news business, he should buy a couple of newspapers — every day, at a newsstand — then take them home and read them.