Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Hudson River Park

Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait said in a note to editorial staff Sunday morning that the company will extend its policy of not investigating its owner, Michael Bloomberg, to all Democrats running for president in 2020.

"We cannot treat Mike's Democratic competitors differently from him."

Why it matters: The company has struggled in recent weeks to determine how it would cover the race and Bloomberg as a candidate, given that its company policies prohibit the newsroom from covering Bloomberg's wealth or personal life, or stories about the company itself.

Details: In a note to staffers Sunday morning after Bloomberg officially announced his candidacy, Micklethwait said that Bloomberg News will continue its tradition of not investigating Bloomberg, his family and foundation, and it would extend the same policy to "his rivals in the Democratic primaries."

  • Micklethwait added that if other outlets publish stories about Bloomberg, Bloomberg Media would "either publish those articles in full or summarize them for our readers — and we will not hide them."
  • Micklethwait noted that the company is following the same policy that it has applied to its coverage of corporate rivals CNBC and Reuters. Bloomberg doesn't investigate those companies, but it does report on the news of the day if it involves them.
  • Micklethwait said that Bloomberg News has already assigned a reporter to follow Bloomberg's presidential campaign, just as the company did when Bloomberg was running for New York City mayor. He says the company will disclose that Bloomberg owns the company in all of its stories about the election.
  • He also said that the company would suspend its editorial board and that David Shipley, Tim O'Brien and other editorial board members will take a leave of absence to join Bloomberg's presidential campaign. Opinion columnists will continue to produce pieces, but editorial board bylines will cease.

What's next: The company is still determining if and how it will continue to investigate the Trump administration if Bloomberg were to win the Democratic nomination and run against Trump in the general election.

Read the full memo:

So Mike is running.
There is no point in trying to claim that covering this presidential campaign will be easy for a newsroom that has built up its reputation for independence in part by not writing about ourselves (and very rarely about our direct competitors). No previous presidential candidate has owned a journalistic organization of this size. We have electoral laws to follow — to do with both balance and opinion. We will certainly obey them, but I think we need to do more than just that — and I believe we can. So this is how we will proceed.

We are not going to follow an exhaustive rulebook. That is partly because I believe that in journalism you “show” your virtue, you don’t “tell” it. You prove your independence by what you write and broadcast, rather than by proclaiming the details in advance. And I am loath to tie our hands at this stage. We cannot predict every detail of the future: we will have to make some decisions on a case-by-case basis. But we can follow some basic principles, and we will make a few organizational changes.

The place where Mike has had the most contact with Editorial is Bloomberg Opinion: our editorials have reflected his views. David Shipley, Tim O'Brien and some members of the Board responsible for those editorials will take a leave of absence to join Mike's campaign. We will suspend the Board, so there will be no unsigned editorials. Our columnists, who produce the majority of Bloomberg Opinion's content, will continue to speak for themselves, and we will continue to take some op-ed articles from outsiders (although not op-eds on the election). Bloomberg Opinion will be led by Bob Burgess, with Reto [Gregori] being the main overseer on the Editorial Management Committee.

On News, we will write about virtually all aspects of this presidential contest in much the same way as we have done so far. We will describe who is winning and who is losing. We will look at policies and their consequences. We will carry polls, we will interview candidates and we will track their campaigns, including Mike’s. We have already assigned a reporter to follow his campaign (just as we did when Mike was in City Hall). And in the stories we write on the presidential contest, we will make clear that our owner is now a candidate.

That covers the vast majority of what this newsroom does. We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike (and his family and foundation) and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries. We cannot treat Mike's Democratic competitors differently from him. If other credible journalistic institutions publish investigative work on Mike or the other Democratic candidates, we will either publish those articles in full, or summarize them for our readers — and we will not hide them. For the moment, our P&I team will continue to investigate the Trump administration, as the government of the day. If Mike is chosen as the Democratic presidential candidate (and Donald Trump emerges as the Republican one), we will reassess how we do that.

To those who would rather that we did not write about Mike at all, I would reply that Bloomberg News has handled these conflicts before — and proved our independence. We are following the same policy that we have applied to Bloomberg LP and our direct rivals in the financial markets and media: we report on but do not investigate Reuters and CNBC. When Mike ran for mayor, we reported on the facts of his campaign and summarized other articles.

So those are the principles that we will follow. They are broad -— and so there will be decisions to be made at the margin. That is what editors are for. And that leads to an organizational change, designed to add even more managerial clout.

Our news coverage of the 2020 race will be run on a day-to-day basis by Wes Kosova, Craig Gordon and our team in Washington, DC. If questions arise, we have Laura Zelenko’s Standards team to call on. But I have asked Marty Schenker, our Chief Content Officer who works alongside Reto and myself on the Editorial Management Committee, to take special responsibility for overseeing our news coverage of Mike and his rivals (and the questions that may occur about this election all the way round the world), in the same way that Reto will oversee Opinion. We may well have to make quick decisions across many platforms. Marty has covered every election since Watergate; we need his experience and judgment, even if responsibility for any mistakes we make ultimately rests with me.

Given the workload this will involve, I have asked Heather Harris to take on Marty’s responsibilities as Chief Content Officer for EMEA and APAC — and she will join Reto, Marty and me on our management committee.

I think this is a structure that can cope with many eventualities. No doubt, many of you are already thinking of possible complexities that may arise. My response is: let’s get back to work. We can spend a long time debating “what ifs”. I would rather that we got on with the journalism and let that speak for itself. So write, blog, broadcast — and the rest will take care of itself.
— John

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